This is beautiful. Financial engineering at its best. Or in this case, financial engineering that got a little too sophisticated for its own good, which might lead to murderous rout of company share values.
Oil at $30 a barrel is blowing a hole in the insurance that U.S. shale drillers bought to protect themselves against a crash.
Companies including Marathon Oil Corp., Noble Energy Inc., Callon Petroleum Inc., Pioneer Natural Resources Co., Rex Energy Corp. and Bonanza Creek Energy Inc. used a strategy known as a three-way collar that doesn’t guarantee a minimum price if oil falls below a certain level, company records show. While three-ways can be cheaper than other hedges, they leave drillers exposed to sharp declines.
“At the time people hedged, they did it without thinking that oil would go to $28,” said Thomas Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group LLC in Jupiter, Florida. “They didn’t have a realistic view about whether the market would crumble or not.”
The three-way hedges risk worsening a cash shortfall for companies trying to survive the worst oil crash in 30 years. The insurance is all the more important after oil plummeted 43 percent in the past year to $26 a barrel in January, exacerbating the pressure on debt-burdened producers.
And here are some individual cases.
Callon, ticker CPE (-24% YTD)
The trade has three parts. First, one option capped the best price Callon could get at $65 a barrel. Selling the right to profit if prices rise offsets the cost of protecting against a decline. The second piece established a floor price of $55, a guaranteed minimum that Callon would get paid even if oil fell below that point. By itself, this kind of trade, called a collar, would’ve ensured that Callon received $25 a barrel protection when oil is trading at $30.
However, Callon added a third element by selling a put option, sometimes called a subfloor, at $40 a barrel. Below that point, Callon essentially forfeits its protection. Instead of pocketing $55, the company is only entitled to the difference between the floor and that subfloor, or $15 a barrel in this case. At $30, Callon will realize $45 a barrel, $10 a barrel less than it would’ve received with a traditional collar.
If prices rebound above the subfloor, any disadvantage to the three-ways disappears.
“Our hedging program is part of our broader risk management efforts, and is designed to provide downside protection in a falling commodity price environment,” said Eric Williams, a spokesman for Callon. The price of oil futures through 2016 is at about $35, at which Callon’s three-ways would yield $50 a barrel, he said.
Pioneer, ticker PXD, (-8.1% YTD)
Similarly, Pioneer used three-ways to cover 65,000 barrels a day in the first half of 2016, or about a third of its projected output, company filings show. The strategy capped the upside price at $73 and guaranteed a minimum of $63, which would’ve ensured $33 above a selling price of $30.
However, Pioneer added a subfloor at $43. If oil’s trading at $30 a barrel, Pioneer will get about $50, or the market price plus the $20 difference between the floor and the subfloor. The difference adds up. With oil at $40, Pioneer will realize about $845,000 less every day than it would have using the collar with the $63 floor.
Bonanza, ticker BCEI, (-56% YTD)
Likewise, Bonanza Creek hedged 5,500 barrels a day for 2016, about 33 percent of its production, with three-way collars with a ceiling of $96.83 and a floor of $85. At $40, the trade would be worth about $55 a barrel, or $302,500 a day. However, Bonanza Creek also sold $70 puts, making its position worth just $15 a barrel, or $82,500 a day.
There are many more instances of this in the sector. Before going long, be sure to investigate oil hedge programs.