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Investors brace for more bad news from oil sands producers

Don Horne   


Canada’s big oil producers are set to give investors more evidence of how they’re battling plunging crude prices, the result of plummeting demand in the face of the coronavirus.

According to Bloomberg News, Western Canada Select crude oil collapsed 90 per cent from February’s high to last week’s low. Calgary-based Cenovus Energy Inc. and Husky Energy Inc. will post first-quarter earnings Wednesday morning, with the former already temporarily suspending its dividend in a bid to save cash.

Both firms have already cut their 2020 production guidance.

Canadian energy companies have announced at least $7.6 billion in capital spending cuts for the year, a reduction of about 33 per cent from their originally projected budgets.


Production curtailments are poised to be a key focus for investors. Analysts have estimated Canada may need to shut-in about 1 million to 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, from an average daily production in 2019 of about 4 million.

Given the lack of crude demand coupled with low Canadian pricing and little in the way of extra storage capacity, “it is hard for us to fathom how Western Canadian crude production can avoid a ~1 million+ bbl/d drop in output in the coming weeks,” Stifel FirstEnergy analyst Michael Dunn told clients in a note.

The virus has disrupted the industry’s operations as well. Imperial Oil Ltd.’s Kearl oil-sands mine has been struck by an outbreak of the virus that has sickened at least 32 workers. TC Energy Corp. has said social-distancing measures may slow construction on projects such as its Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Energy firms will further trim capital spending, update their efforts at cost reductions and potentially adjust dividend levels.

“Liquidity measures appear sufficient for most companies to bridge the gap in 2020, but next year could be another story,” RBC’s Greg Pardy said.

“Expect the market to look past anticipated weak 1Q prints and focus on liquidity and ability to cut, store, & place production,” says Morgan Stanley’s Benny Wong.

Wong sees integrated firms carrying an advantage in navigating storage woes. He sees the highest negative cash flow revision risk for Cenovus and Husky heading into earnings results.

(Bloomberg News)


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