On a day when oil hit $50 a barrel, energy stocks have yet to rejoice, giving further proof that it will take more than just an increase in the price of oil to save heavily indebted energy companies. One company that hasn't been helped is California Resources (CRC): Shares closed down nearly 7% Thursday to $1.69.
California Resources was spun off from Action Alerts PLUS holding Occidental Petroleum (OXY) in November 2014. The timing was poor as energy prices were already on their steep way down, making 2015, its first full year as a stand-alone company, particularly difficult. It started that year by reducing its drilling rigs to three from 27 and cutting its 2015 capital program by 80% to $440 million.
Making matters worse, the company started with nearly $6 billion in long-term debt, which was downgraded to CCC+ from BB- by Standard & Poor's in January, placing it further into "junk" territory. In its assessment, S&P wrote that California Resources' situation isn't likely to improve with higher oil prices alone. It needs to sell assets to attack its debt burden, which is something S&P said was "unlikely."
Representatives from California Resources did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Indeed, while other troubled energy companies have been able to get by in 2016 due in part to (slowly) rising oil prices and asset sales, California Resources has struggled. Asset sales have not yet materialized and management described its success in forming joint ventures as "modest" on a call with analysts earlier this month.
For now, California Resources is weighing balance-sheet worries heavier than production. Part of that focus is due to covenants on its debt that prevent the company from making capital investments in excess of $100 million.
"You'll see us bring on more workover rigs and probably if [oil] continues to expand itself in the $40s, maybe a drilling rig or two," CEO Todd Stevens said on the analyst call. "As it goes higher into the $50s, we'll start thinking about more investment in bringing that back into a point of maintaining production. But I think you've got to balance out the liquidity issues versus trying to strengthen the balance sheet. So we're going to be doing those two things as we manage the business."