Fitch Ratings has downgraded Chesapeake Energy Corporation's
(Chesapeake; NYSE: CHK) Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to 'B'
from 'BB-'. The Rating Outlook remains Negative. A full list of rating
actions is provided at the end of this release.
In addition, Fitch expects to rate the company's planned second lien
notes issuance 'BB-'/RR2. Chesapeake announced the early tender
extension and upsizing of private offers of up to $3 billion from $1.5
billion in new 8% senior secured second lien notes due 2022 in exchange
for certain outstanding senior unsecured notes. The early and late
exchange offers expire on Dec. 18 and Dec. 30, 2015, respectively. Fitch
believes that the exchange offer will help to materially reduce overall
balance sheet debt, but early tenders suggest the exchange will have
limited impact on the company's near-term maturities profile. The
exchange is also likely to modestly decrease cash interest payments
based on early results.
The downgrade reflects the limited near-term liquidity relief provided
by the exchange and the potential for low hydrocarbon prices (in
particular the recent drop in natural gas prices to below $2.00/mcf) to
negatively impact the company's plans to raise liquidity through asset
sales. Fitch believes asset sales are likely to be natural gas focused
given management's long-term strategy to increase its liquids-focused
production mix. Ultimately, the company is expected to use its large,
diversified asset base to manage their medium-term operational and
financial obligations currently providing a margin of safety at the 'B'
level. Fitch believes there is an adequate number of peer and
financially-backed E&P companies that have a considerable amount of
capital looking to be deployed for M&A.
The Negative Outlook reflects heightened asset sale execution risk, as
well as the potential for further deterioration of the company's free
cash flow (FCF) profile. In our view, the private exchange offer signals
management's difficulty selling assets in the current stressed
hydrocarbon pricing environment to help address forecast FCF shortfalls
and debt maturities.
Fitch does not currently view the pending exchange as a distressed debt
exchange. The exchange acceptance priority and sliding conversion scale
are not anticipated to result in a material reduction in terms.
Furthermore, the exchange is largely opportunistic and not necessary to
avoid a near-term bankruptcy or payment default. The company has $1.7
billion of cash on hand as of Sept. 30, 2015, full availability under
its $4 billion secured revolver with ample unencumbered collateral
mitigating the risk of material borrowing base reductions, and a large,
diversified reserve base, parts of which should be able to be sold off
to help improve liquidity.
KEY RATING DRIVERS
Chesapeake's ratings reflect its considerable size with an increasingly
liquids-focused production profile and proved reserves (1p) base, solid
reserve replacement history, adequate near-term liquidity position, and
strong operational execution with ongoing improvements leading to
competitive production and cost profiles. These considerations are
offset by the company's levered capital structure, continued exposure to
legacy drilling, purchase, and overriding royalty interest obligations,
natural gas weighted profile that results in lower netbacks per barrel
of oil equivalent (boe) relative to liquid peers, and weaker realized
natural gas prices after differentials are incorporated. In the near
term, the sharp drop in U.S. natural gas prices linked to a strong El
Nino weather pattern have also weighed on the company. Fitch recognizes,
however, that Chesapeake has made significant progress towards its
financial and operational deleveraging efforts since 2013.
The company reported year-end 2014 net proved reserves of nearly 2.5
billion boe and production of 707 thousand boe per day (mboepd; 29%
liquids). This resulted in a year-end reserve life of just under 10
years. Third-quarter 2015 production was 667 mboepd (28% liquids) with
declining quarterly trends mainly related to reduced rig activity. The
Fitch-calculated one-year organic reserve replacement rate was about
154% for year-end 2014 with an associated finding and development (F&D)
cost of approximately $10.15 per boe. Fitch-calculated third-quarter
hedged and unhedged cash netbacks were $7.11/boe and $2.29/boe,
respectively. Unhedged cash netbacks have dropped 87% since year-end
2014 mainly due to weakness in market prices and unfavorable
The increase in latest-12-month (LTM) balance sheet debt/EBITDA to
approximately 3.9x, as of Sept. 30, 2015, compared to 2.6x at year end
2014, demonstrates the impact of lower hedged price realizations.
Chesapeake's debt/1p reserves and debt/flowing barrel have remained
relatively steady at approximately $5.37/boe, and $19,900, respectively.
Fitch's base case, excluding the potential reduction in gross debt
post-exchange, predicts debt/EBITDA of approximately 5.4x and 9.7x in
2015 and 2016, respectively.
Fitch's key assumptions within our rating case for Chesapeake include:
--WTI oil price that trends up from $50/barrel in 2015 to a long-term
price of $70/barrel;
--Henry Hub gas that trends up from $2.75/mcf in 2015 to a long-term
price of $3.50/mcf;
--Production of 671 mboepd in 2015, generally consistent with guidance,
followed by price- and cash flow-linked production growth;
--Liquids mix declines to 28% in 2015 due to lower drilling activity,
particularly in the liquids-rich Eagle Ford basin, with activity focused
on operationally committed and shorter-cycle gas-oriented plays
--Differentials are projected to exhibit improving trends over the
medium term due to some Marcellus basis tightening and gathering cost
--Capital spending is forecast to be $3.25 billion in 2015, consistent
with guidance, followed by a more balanced capex profile thereafter;
--Non-core asset sales of $250 million assumed to be completed in 2016;
--No increase in long-term balance sheet debt assumed.
Positive: Future developments that may, individually or collectively,
lead to a positive rating action include:
Maintenance of size, scale, and diversification of Chesapeake's
operations with some combination of the following metrics:
--Mid-cycle balance sheet debt/EBITDA under 5.5x-6.0x on a sustained
--Balance sheet debt/flowing barrel under $35,000 - $40,000 and/or
debt/1p below $8.00 - $8.50/boe on a sustained basis;
--Continued progress in materially reducing adjusted debt balances and
simplifying the capital structure;
--Improvements in realized oil & gas differentials.
Negative: Future developments that may, individually or collectively,
lead to a negative rating action include:
--Mid-cycle balance sheet debt/EBITDA above 6.5x - 7.0x on a sustained
--Balance sheet debt/flowing barrel of $45,000 - $50,000 and/or debt/1p
above $9.00 - $9.50/boe on a sustained basis;
--An unwillingness or inability to execute asset sales, if necessary, to
help address forecasted FCF shortfalls and debt maturities;
--A persistently weak oil & gas pricing environment that impairs the
longer-term value of Chesapeake's reserve base;
--Acquisitions and/or shareholder-friendly actions inconsistent with the
expected cash flow and leverage profile.
ADEQUATE NEAR-TERM LIQUIDITY POSITION
Pro forma cash & equivalents, as of Sept. 30, 2015, were nearly $1.4
billion, considering the November 2015 repayment of $394 million in
contingent convertible senior notes. Additional liquidity is provided by
the company's recently amended $4 billion senior secured credit facility
due December 2019. There were no outstanding borrowings under the
facility, as of Sept. 30, 2015, with $12 million of the facility
capacity used for various letters of credit. Fitch's base case forecasts
the company will end 2015 with approximately $1.1 billion in cash &
equivalents assuming the $200 million - $300 million in planned non-core
asset sales are completed in 2016.
ESCALATING MATURITIES PROFILE
The company has an escalating maturities profile with $500 million, $2.2
billion, $1 billion, and $1.5 billion due in 2016 - 2019. These amounts
exclude the effects of the pending exchange and include the $1.2 billion
and $347 million in contingent convertible senior notes with holders'
demand repurchase dates in May 2017 and December 2018, respectively. If
oil & gas prices remain depressed in the medium term, Fitch believes it
is likely that the contingent convertible senior notes holders will
exercise their demand rights for a cash repurchase given the five-year
demand repurchase date schedule and considerable spread between the
current stock price and conversion threshold.
MODIFIED FINANCIAL COVENANT PACKAGE
Financial covenants, as defined in the recently amended credit facility
agreement, consist of a maximum net debt-to-book capitalization ratio of
65% (38% as of Sept. 30, 2015), senior secured leverage ratio of 3.5x
through 2017 and 3.0x thereafter (no secured debt is currently
outstanding), and an interest coverage ratio of 1.1x through first
quarter 2017 followed by periodic increases to 1.25x by the end of 2017
(4.7x). Other customary covenants across debt instruments restrict the
ability to incur additional liens, make restricted payments, and merge,
consolidate, or sell assets, as well as change in control provisions.
The company also has amended and increased its ability to incur junior
lien debt to up to $4 billion from $2 billion. Any junior lien issuances
could reduce revolver availability after April 15, 2016 (the first
borrowing base redetermination date).
FULL LIST OF RATING ACTIONS
Fitch has downgraded the following ratings:
Chesapeake Energy Corporation
--Long-term IDR to 'B' from 'BB-';
--Senior secured bank facility to 'BB/RR1from 'BB+'/RR1;
--Senior unsecured notes to 'B/RR4' from 'BB-/RR4';
--Convertible preferred stock to 'CCC+/RR6' from 'B/RR6'.
The Rating Outlook remains Negative. Additionally, Fitch has removed the
senior unsecured notes Rating Watch Negative due to the result of our
bespoke recovery analysis and additional clarity as to the potential
size of the new second lien notes and possible reduction in unsecured
Fitch also expects to rate the senior secured second lien notes as
--Senior secured second lien notes 'BB-/RR2'.
Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com
Corporate Rating Methodology - Including Short-Term Ratings and Parent
and Subsidiary Linkage (pub. 17 Aug 2015)
Recovery Ratings and Notching Criteria for Non-Financial Corporate
Issuers (pub. 07 Dec 2015)
Dodd-Frank Rating Information Disclosure Form
ALL FITCH CREDIT RATINGS ARE SUBJECT TO CERTAIN LIMITATIONS AND
DISCLAIMERS. PLEASE READ THESE LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS BY FOLLOWING
THIS LINK: HTTP://FITCHRATINGS.COM/UNDERSTANDINGCREDITRATINGS.
AVAILABLE ON THE AGENCY'S PUBLIC WEBSITE 'WWW.FITCHRATINGS.COM'.
PUBLISHED RATINGS, CRITERIA AND METHODOLOGIES ARE AVAILABLE FROM THIS
SITE AT ALL TIMES. FITCH'S CODE OF CONDUCT, CONFIDENTIALITY, CONFLICTS
OF INTEREST, AFFILIATE FIREWALL, COMPLIANCE AND OTHER RELEVANT POLICIES
AND PROCEDURES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE FROM THE 'CODE OF CONDUCT' SECTION OF
THIS SITE. FITCH MAY HAVE PROVIDED ANOTHER PERMISSIBLE SERVICE TO THE
RATED ENTITY OR ITS RELATED THIRD PARTIES. DETAILS OF THIS SERVICE FOR
RATINGS FOR WHICH THE LEAD ANALYST IS BASED IN AN EU-REGISTERED ENTITY
CAN BE FOUND ON THE ENTITY SUMMARY PAGE FOR THIS ISSUER ON THE FITCH
View source version on businesswire.com: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20151216006407/en/
Copyright Business Wire 2015