HOUSTON (Reuters) - The stark reality of a much-feared second dip in crude prices is prompting global oil majors and nimble U.S. shale companies alike to ax spending once again a year after the first price crash started.
In North Dakota, Whiting Petroleum Corp (WLL.N), the top producer in the No. 2 U.S. oil patch, cut its capital expenditure budget days after optimistically raising it 15 percent on bets the renewed downturn in prices would be a temporary blip.
ConocoPhillips (COP.N), the largest U.S. independent, trimmed its 2015 budget for the third time on Thursday, by $500 million to $11 billion.
More ominously, Linn Energy LLC LINE.O, a small exploration and production company, suspended its quarterly distribution to investors on Thursday to conserve precious cash that has largely evaporated on the price drop. Its shares fell 26 percent.
Conoco CEO Ryan Lance said the company was preparing for “lower, more volatile prices.”
Crude prices have been on a roller coaster since mid-2014, when global oversupply started to chip away at levels higher than $100 a barrel. After hitting a bottom of $42 in March, U.S. crude rallied to around $60 in May, providing some breathing room to shale companies that saw a dramatic reduction in cash flow.
But since June 23, when the latest rout started, oil has tumbled about 20 percent to around $49 a barrel. The second dip has dashed hopes raised in May that prices would hold steady at around $60 a barrel or inch towards $65, a level that many U.S. shale oil producers have said would allow them to add drilling rigs and emerge from their defensive crouch.
Indeed, Whiting now plans to spend $2.15 billion this year, running eight drilling rigs instead of a previous plan for 11.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp (APC.N) said chasing growth in this environment would be make no sense.
“It just seems unlikely that we will have the kind of margins that we have seen historically that would encourage us to go back into a growth mode,” Anadarko CEO Al Walker told investors on Wednesday, while holding off on cutting its budget again.
Weaker companies are in a tougher spot as they weigh cutting spending, selling more high-yield bonds or issuing more shares to cope with the loss of cash from low oil and gas prices.
“All (exploration and production) companies have to be considering their capital programs,” said Matthew Miller, oil analyst with S&P Capital IQ.
The easy money that the helped even highly leveraged companies keep drilling in the first half of the year may also become more scarce, another hurdle for the battered sector.
“This ‘shale’ capital was attracted by the promise of improving returns,” a scenario that has faded, said equity analysts at Nomura.
In addition to tightening capital markets, oil and gas companies, will likely see bankers cut funding for credit lines during so-called borrowing base re-determinations in October.
Small natural gas shale company EXCO Resources Inc (XCO.N) said on Monday its lenders cut its credit lines by 17 percent, resulting in a hit to the Dallas company’s available liquidity.
“We expect fall’s re-determination period to be more punitive than the spring‘s,” analysts at Tudor Pickering said on Tuesday.
That could signal more job cuts, which Conoco said were in store.
Globally, more than 160,000 jobs in the industry have been shed over the last year, said Tobias Read, CEO of Swift Worldwide Resources, which provides contract engineers to oil companies.
Reporting by Anna Driver; editing by Terry Wade and Bill Rigby