Whiting Petroleum plunges to record low on weak production forecast

(Reuters) - U.S. oil producer Whiting Petroleum Corp WLL.N forecast a wider-than-expected fall in quarterly production on Thursday as its drilling operations were hit by severe bad weather, sending its shares tumbling 42% to a record low.

FILE PHOTO: A trader waits for the opening of Whiting Petroleum's stock at the post where it is traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Shares of the company have lost nearly 75% of their value this year amid weak oil prices and rising investor concerns over the company’s ability to meet its debt maturities.

In a conference call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter results, analysts pushed Whiting executives to offer clarity on the company’s plans to refinance its debt that matures in 2021.

But the executives side-stepped the questions, saying they had hired advisers to explore all alternatives and that they would not elaborate further.

“Given the current commodity price and the current state of the capital markets, we felt it was best to retain advisers,” Chief Financial Officer Correne Loeffler said.

“We’ve seen that the A&D (assets and divestiture) market has been extremely challenged. We will continue to look at alternatives as they come available.”

The company also flagged pump failures due to bad weather on multiple high-value wells and forecast production of 108,000 to 110,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) in the first quarter, below analysts’ estimates of 121,570 boepd.

For the fourth quarter, Whiting posted a net loss of $147.5 million, compared with a profit of $204 million last year as costs jumped 87%, while natural gas prices dropped.

“Given the company’s leverage and the current situation in the oil markets, it would have taken a heroic release for Whiting to outperform today,” J.P. Morgan analysts said in a note to clients.

Denver-based Whiting forecast 2020 capital spending of $585 million to $620 million, well below $778 million it spent in 2019.

Last week, other shale players Concho Resources CXO.N and Devon Energy DVN.N cut their spending plans for the year and hiked dividends, bowing to investor demand for returns.

Whiting’s realized price for natural gas averaged about 84.4% lower last year.

Quarterly production of 11.31 million barrels of oil equivalent (mboe) was marginally ahead of estimates of 11.23 mboe and revenue of $380.6 million also beat estimates of $371.4 million.

Excluding items, it recorded a loss of 22 cents per share, smaller than analysts’ expectations of a loss of 41 cents.

Reporting by Nishara Karuvalli Pathikkal in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Vinay Dwivedi