Shale pioneer Chesapeake files for bankruptcy

Oklahoma City-based shale drilling pioneer Chesapeake Energy helped to turn the US into an energy powerhouse. (AP)
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Updated 30 June 2020

Shale pioneer Chesapeake files for bankruptcy

  • The filing marks an end of an era for the Oklahoma City-based shale pioneer

NEW YORK: Chesapeake Energy filed for Chapter 11, becoming the largest US oil and gas producer to seek bankruptcy protection in recent years as it bowed to heavy debts and the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on energy markets.

The filing marks an end of an era for the Oklahoma City-based shale pioneer, and comes after months of negotiations with creditors. Reuters first reported in March the company had retained debt advisers.

Chesapeake was co-founded by Aubrey McClendon, an early and high-profile advocate of shale drilling who died in 2016 in a fiery one-car crash in Oklahoma while facing a federal probe into bid rigging. 

Over more than two decades, McClendon built Chesapeake from a small wildcatter to a top US producer of natural gas. It remains the sixth-largest producer by volume.

Current CEO Doug Lawler, who inherited a company saddled with about $13 billion in debt in 2013, managed to chip at the debt pile with spending cuts and asset sales, but this year’s historic oil price rout left Chesapeake without the ability to refinance that debt.

“Despite having removed over $20 billion of leverage and financial commitments, we believe this restructuring is necessary for the long-term success and value creation of the business,” Lawler said in a statement announcing the filing. Lawler last year spent $4 billion on an ill-timed push to reduce Chesapeake’s reliance on natural gas. The purchase sent its shares lower and this year the value of Chesapeake’s oil and gas holdings fell by $700 million this quarter. The company last month warned it may not be able to continue operations.

Chesapeake plans to eliminate approximately $7 billion of its debt, the statement said. A separate court filing indicated that Chesapeake has more than $10 billion in liabilities and assets, respectively. Chesapeake’s outlook plunged this year as the coronavirus outbreak and a Saudi-Russia price war sharply cut energy prices and drove its first quarter losses to more than $8 billion. On Friday, its stock traded at $11.85, down 93 percent since the start of the year, leaving it with a market value of $116 million.

The company has entered into a restructuring support agreement, which has the backing of lenders to its main revolving credit facility — some of which are providing $925 million of debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing to help fund operations during the bankruptcy proceedings.

The agreement also has backing from portions of other creditors, including those behind 87 percent of its term loan, and holders of 60 percent and 27 percent, respectively, of its senior secured second lien notes due 2025, and senior unsecured notes.

While the statement does not name Chesapeake’s creditors, investment firm Franklin Resources is among the most significant. On June 15, Reuters reported that Chesapeake’s impending restructuring would turn over control of the company to creditors including Franklin.

Chesapeake also has agreed the principal terms for a $2.5 billion exit financing, while some of its lenders and secured note holders have agreed to backstop a $600 million offering of new shares, to take place upon exiting the Chapter 11 process, the statement added.

Chesapeake’s filing in US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas makes it the largest bankruptcy of an US oil and gas producer since at least 2015, when law firm Haynes & Boone began publishing data on restructurings.

Chesapeake’s advisers are investment banks Rothschild & Co. and Intrepid Partners, law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and turnaround specialists Alvarez & Marsal.


Analysts urge Canada to focus on boosting the economy

Updated 26 min 35 sec ago

Analysts urge Canada to focus on boosting the economy

  • Canada lost one of its coveted triple-A ratings in June when Fitch downgraded it for the first time

TORONTO: Canada should focus on boosting economic growth after getting pummeled by the COVID-19 crisis, analysts say, even as concerns about the sustainability of its debt are growing, with Fitch downgrading the nation’s rating just over a week ago.

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau will deliver a “fiscal snapshot” on Wednesday that will outline the current balance sheet and may give an idea of the money the government is setting aside for the future.

As the economy recovers, some fiscal support measures, which are expected to boost the budget deficit sharply, could be wound down and replaced by incentives meant to get people back to work and measures to boost economic growth, economists said.

“The only solution to these large deficits is growth, so we need a transition to a pro-growth agenda,” said Craig Wright, chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada. The IMF expects Canada’s economy to contract by 8.4 percent this year. Ottawa is already rolling out more than C$150 billion in direct economic aid, including payments to workers impacted by COVID-19.

Further stimulus measures could include a green growth strategy, as well as spending on infrastructure, including smart infrastructure, economists said. Smart infrastructure makes use of digital technology.

“We have to make sure that government spending is calibrated to the economy of the future rather than the economy of the past,” Wright said.

Canada lost one of its coveted triple-A ratings in June when Fitch downgraded it for the first time, citing the billions of dollars in emergency aid Ottawa has spent to help bridge the downturn caused by COVID-19 shutdowns.

Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and DBRS still give Canadian debt the highest rating. At DBRS, Michael Heydt, the lead sovereign analyst on Canada, says his concern is about potential structural damage to the economy if the slowdown lingers too long.

Fiscal policymakers “need to be confident that there is a recovery underway before they start talking about (debt) consolidation,” Heydt said.

Fitch expects Canada’s total government debt will rise to 115.1 percent of GDP in 2020 from 88.3 percent in 2019.

Royce Mendes, a senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said the economy still needs more support.

“Turning too quickly toward austerity would be a clear mistake,” he said.