Coronavirus Hits Oil's Weakest Credits Hardest

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(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It is possible that even now, after five years of bruising re-education, Saudi Arabia harbors dreams of finally overcoming the U.S. fracking industry’s cockroach-like grip on life.

Unfortunately for Riyadh, coronavirus threatens its own health, so instead of letting rip, it’s talking about further supply cuts. Unfortunately for the frackers, such talk — absent full-throated endorsement from Moscow — still leaves Nymex oil futures pegged at just $50 a barrel. Make no mistake, virus or no, there is a deep malaise in the oil market.

Immunity is bolstered best with a healthy (or healthy-ish) balance sheet. On Thursday evening, Parsley Energy Inc. priced eight-year bonds at 4.125%. As exploration and production companies go, Parsley’s leverage counts as relatively OK. It ended September with net debt of just under 1.9 times trailing Ebitda, and Fitch Ratings has it just inside investment grade. It is taking the opportunity to raise longer-dated money with a lower coupon to take out 2024 paper costing 6.25% a year, albeit paying a hefty premium of almost 5% of par to do so.

Parsley is a relative rarity. Energy’s high-yield market is largely closed, with the option-adjusted spread on the ICE BofA U.S. High Yield Energy Index back above 700 basis points. The lowest-rated energy credits are utter pariahs, with CCC-rated bonds sporting an average spread of almost 2,000 basis points, according to CreditSights, versus an ex-energy average of about 860 points, which seems almost welcoming by comparison.

This split between the sort-of-haves and the most-definitely-have-nots is reflected in stocks too. I wrote back in November about how leverage had become a differentiating factor in an E&P sector coming under increasing pressure. The new year’s bout of fear and loathing has exacerbated that. Here’s how the sector has done, split by levels of indebtedness :

Coronavirus Hits Oil's Weakest Credits Hardest

The message from the stock market, and Parsley’s opportunism, is clear: Any fracker wanting to survive 2020 had best ditch the freewheeling habits of yesteryear and hunker down.

The four groups are: as follows. Very high leverage (net debt >3x Ebitda) comprising Antero Resources, Chesapeake Energy, Comstock Resources, EQT, Laredo Petroleum, Oasis Petroleum, Range Resources. High leverage (2-3 x Ebitda) comprising Apache, Callon Petroleum, CNX Resources, Matador Resources, QEP Resources, Southwestern Energy. Moderate leverage (1-2x Ebitda) comprising Berry Petroleum, Centennial Resource Development, Cimarex Energy, Continental Resources, Diamondback Energy, Diversified Oil & Gas, Jagged Peak Energy, Marathon Oil, Murphy Oil, Northern Oil and Gas, Parsley Energy, PDC Energy, SM Energy, SRC Energy, Talos Energy, W&T Offshore, WPX Energy. Low leverage (<1x Ebitda) comprising Cabot Oil & Gas, Devon Energy, EOG Resources, Magnolia Oil & Gas, Pioneer Natural Resources, Riviera Resources.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy, mining and commodities. He previously was editor of the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column and wrote for the Financial Times' Lex column. He was also an investment banker.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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