Oilpatch earnings expected to be worst since financial crisis

Energy prices tested new lows over the summer, and oilpatch earnings that begin this week are going to reflect those weak prices.

As third-quarter earnings start, more pain expected for the oilpatch

Third quarter earnings for the oilpatch are expected to be rough. (Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

The oilpatch will be singing the blues this week, as a large number of energy companies prepare to release earnings for the summer quarter, a period when the price of crude plumbed multi-year lows.

"We had oil go up to $60 and back down to $40 and most of that drop happened during the quarter," said Martin Pelletier, a portfolio manager with TriVest Wealth Counsel.

Pelletier expects the numbers to be the worst since the financial crisis in 2009.

As has been the case all year, there will be a divide between the integrated companies such as Suncor Energy, Imperial Oil and Husky Energy, which produce oil, refine it, and sell it as gasoline and companies that are focused on just exploration and production. All three integrated companies will report this week, with Suncor and Imperial both expected to post relatively strong numbers.

There's a simple reason: The gasoline business has been a pretty good one so far in 2015. So much so, that the Bank of Canada took note in its monetary policy report last week..

Exploration and production

Outside of the integrated sector, the picture darkens. Both Canadian Oil Sands, which is in the midst of a takeover battle, and MEG Energy are pure oilsands producers who have both reported large losses in the first six months of the year. On the bright side, both companies were also able to generate cash flow, which is the key indicator that analysts will be watching. They will want to know how much cash is on hand for next year.

"With cash flow materially lower in the quarter, the question is where the cash flow is going to be in the future," said Pelletier. "And will it be reflected in capital programs being reduced."

Those capital programs are being considered right now as we head to the end of 2015. Capital expenditures were cut by tens of billions of dollars in 2015, which played a big role in pushing Canada into recession in the first half of the year.

Oil prices are relatively stable right now, but are only expected to improve slightly in the next 12 months. That stability is welcome, but if budgets are being set at $45 US a barrel for oil, we can expect less money to be spent in the sector next year, which will have a negative pull on both Alberta and Canada's economy.

Oilfield services

The hardest hit sector continues to be oil services. Drilling contractors have cut back on staff and have been bleeding red through the past ten months, a tide that is not expected to turn.

Last week Canada's largest independent driller, Precision Drilling, reported an $87 million loss and wrote down the value of its assets. In a conference call, the chief executive said that he expects this winter drilling season to be the slowest since the 2009 financial crisis.

The lion's share of Alberta's job cuts (around 25,000) have come from the services sector, many companies have suspended or warned about their dividends and there are concerns about debt levels.

More cuts?

There have been thousands of job cuts in Alberta in September and October alone. Cenovus Energy, Penn West Petroleum, TransAlta, Pengrowth Energy, and others shed staff. Cenovus's chief executive Brian Ferguson told CBC News that it should be able to withstand low oil prices for another three years with no further cuts.

But three years would be a long time for smaller companies, which are seeing revisions to their credit facilities. According to Pelletier, the "big guys" are going to be fine. That's not necessarily the case with smaller companies.

"Many of the juniors and intermediate companies may not make it another year if prices don't recover."