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Last Updated: September 27, 2019
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The stock prices of U.S. oil exploration and production (E&P) companies relative to the broader U.S. equity market index have declined since the start of the year. Lower stock prices could make it more difficult for U.S. E&P companies to raise the capital needed for their investment programs. Despite the implication of lower market capitalization, through the second quarter of 2019, the profitability and cash flow generation for the 42 U.S. oil producers the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) regularly follows have increased since 2017, suggesting less reliance on capital markets to fund capital expenditure. EIA based this analysis primarily on the published financial reports of these 42 companies, so it is not necessarily representative of the sector as a whole because the analysis does not represent the financial situation of private companies that do not publish financial reports.

The combined cash from operations for these 42 companies totaled $19.2 billion in the second quarter of 2019, a year-over-year increase of $0.8 billion. In addition, these companies' combined capital expenditure totaled $18.5 billion, a year-over-year decline of $0.9 billion (Figure 1). Since the beginning of 2017, quarterly capital expenditures ranged between $16 billion and $21 billion. Growth in cash from operations has been larger than the growth in capital expenditures since mid-2017, and the two have been relatively consistent since mid-2018. This trend implies that the companies generally have been able to fund their capital expenditure programs increasingly through cash flow from operating activities and less from outside sources of capital, such as debt or equity. In fact, these companies have used more funds for financing activities such as reducing debt and repurchasing shares than they received from incurring debt and issuing shares since the second quarter of 2017.

Figure 1. Cash flow items for 42 U.S. oil producers

The 42 companies' production and returns on equity have also increased since 2017. Production gains have come largely through productivity increases during this time, although some production growth is the result of companies that merged with or acquired assets from companies outside of this set of 42. By using longer laterals in horizontal drilling, as well as injecting more proppant per foot, U.S. E&P companies have increased average output per well. According to the 42 companies' income statements, however, upstream production costs did not increase at the same rate as total output growth through the second quarter of 2019, allowing the 42 companies to increase production and returns on equity while maintaining capital expenditures lower than $21 billion per quarter. The companies' combined return on equity and year-over-year production growth each reached 11% as of the second quarter of 2019 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Production and return on equity for 42 U.S. oil producers

Despite the increase in returns, production, and cash flow from operations, the combined market capitalization for these 42 companies was $380 billion as of the end of the second quarter of 2019, a year-over-year decline of 28%. The stock prices for many of them continued to decline in the third quarter of 2019. The broader S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Select Industry Index, which represents stock prices for 63 U.S. oil companies, recently declined to low levels relative to the broader U.S. equity market. When compared with the Russell 3000 Index, a stock index that represents almost all publicly traded equities in the United States, the S&P Oil & Gas E&P Index declined throughout the second quarter of 2019 and reached the lowest level since late 2000 in August (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Stock price index for U.S. oil companies

Market capitalization and stock prices often indicate investors' forward-looking expectations and sentiment. In this case, relatively low stock prices for U.S. E&P companies may reflect investor beliefs that E&P companies' future growth or profitability potential is low. Similarly, a declining ratio with the broader Russell 3000 Index implies investors expect other sectors of the U.S. economy have greater growth potential than the U.S. E&P sector. This expectation suggests that investors may have some concerns about whether the profitability and production growth seen in the financial statements as of the second quarter of 2019 will continue.

Low stock prices indicate expectations of lower profits and growth for U.S. E&P companies. More directly, some E&P companies would not be able to raise as much debt or equity financing with a low stock price than they otherwise would. At the same time, more companies have been able to increase cash from operations and fund investment through retained earnings, effectively reducing the need for outside sources of capital. The ability of these companies to maintain similar returns and production growth rates through cash from operations will continue to depend primarily on crude oil prices, trends in productivity per well, and oilfield services costs.

U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices increase

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose 10 cents from the previous week to $2.65 per gallon on September 23, 19 cents lower than the same time last year and the largest single week increase in the U.S. average regular gasoline retail price since September 4, 2017. The Midwest price rose by 13 cents to $2.59 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price rose by 12 cents to $2.35 per gallon, the East Coast price rose nearly 9 cents to $2.54 per gallon, the West Coast price rose over 8 cents to $3.34 per gallon, and the Rocky Mountain price increased by more than 4 cents to $2.70 per gallon.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price rose more than 9 cents to $3.08 per gallon on September 23, 19 cents lower than a year ago and the largest single week increase in the U.S. average diesel fuel price since September 4, 2017. The Midwest price rose by 11 cents to $2.99 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price rose by nearly 10 cents to $2.86 per gallon, the East Coast price rose by nearly 9 cents to $3.08 per gallon, and the West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each rose by nearly 8 cents to $3.65 per gallon and $3.03 per gallon, respectively.

Propane/propylene inventories decline

U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.0 million barrels last week to 99.7 million barrels as of September 20, 2019, 13.1 million barrels (15.2%) higher than the five-year (2014-18) average inventory levels for this same time of year. East Coast and Midwest inventories decreased by 1.2 million barrels and 0.9 million barrels, respectively. Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories increased by 0.9 million barrels and 0.1 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 4.3% of total propane/propylene inventories.

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