Newfield Exploration’s Transformation to Oil Producer Is Imminent

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Newfield Exploration's  (NFX)  transformation to a U.S. producer of oil and and natural-gas liquids, from a gas-focused international exploration and production company, will be complete as soon as it sells its last international asset, which it expects to do this year.

So far, Newfield has sold $2.5 billion of assets that it labeled "non-strategic." Last year, the company sold its Malaysian business for $898 million, and this year, it sold its Granite Wash assets in Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle for nearly $583 million.

The company is eyeing the sale of its Chinese assets, which will mark the end of its international operations.

Newfield expects to "have resolution around the China divestiture later this year," company spokeswoman Cindy Hassler wrote in an email.

Shares of Newfield, as well as other oil and gas producers such as Anadarko Petroleum  (APC)  , Continental Resources (CLR) , EOG Resources (EOG)   and Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD)  , have been under pressure due to the recent drop in crude oil prices. Even so, Newfield's shares are still up by more than 60% this year, closing at $39.47 on Tuesday, easily outperforming the broader S&P 500 as well as all its aforementioned peers. The sale of Chinese assets at a good price and improvements in oil prices could act as a catalyst for further upside over the near term.

Until last year, Newfield's output, which came from its U.S. and international operations, was more than 50% natural gas. Back then, the company struggled with billions in dollars of losses and massive write-offs due to the weakness in natural gas prices.

Newfield then decided to shift its focus to its most promising high-return areas: its four onshore U.S. assets in Utah's Uinta Basin, North Dakota's Williston Basin, Oklahoma's Anadarko Basin and South Texas's Eagle Ford region.

These four areas in general and the company's properties in liquid-rich Anadarko Basin in particular will drive Newfield's transformation. The company's focus has been on exploiting its acreage in the SCOOP and STACK regions of the Anadarko Basin, which makes the biggest contribution to the company's total production.

Daily production from this region has grown to nearly 39,000 barrels of oil equivalents, from just 3,700 barrels of oil equivalents in the first quarter of 2012. Additionally, the company has targeted 100% production growth from the Anadarko Basin this year.

Newfield's liquid-production growth has been driven mainly by an increase in output from the Anadarko Basin as well as from the Uinta and Williston Basins.

Newfield has forecast a 10% increase in production from Uinta this year, but with strong well performance results, as well as capital investment of $400 million this year, this region could start making bigger contributions. As for the Williston Basin, Newfield has forecast a 40% increase in production this year.

Overall, Newfield has forecast 30% growth in production for this year.

The company has said it will take this momentum forward through 2016, with double-digit production growth in each year, which will lead to an average of 25% growth in cash flows per year.

This all sounds promising, but Newfield is heavily leveraged. The company's debt stands at $3 billion, which is about 95% of its total equity, significantly higher than the industry's average of 55%. However, the company has been living within its means since it started its turnaround efforts last year, thanks to its ability to generate positive cash flows as well as asset sales.

Newfield has said it will use the proceeds from the sale of Granite Wash assets to reduce its debt, which will bring down its debt-to-equity ratio to 80%. Moreover, the improving cash flows will also strengthen the company's balance sheet.

Read more:
 Why Newfield Exploration Stock Is Dropping Today

Meanwhile, Hassler has said the proceeds from the sale of Chinese assets will bolster Newfield's "2014 and 2015 capital expenditures."

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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