In an Oct. 11 call with analysts about Exxon Mobil’s acquisition of Pioneer Natural Resources, the supermajor’s executives said they expect a $6 billion boost to its free cash flow. Analysts responded with mild skepticism.
“Pioneer offers pure leading asset margins and immediately adds $5 billion in annual free cash flow,” Exxon Mobil CFO Kathryn Mikells said on the call. “With synergies, we expect incremental free cash flow of $6 billion in the second full year.”
Bank of America analyst Doug Leggate questioned that.
“Maybe our numbers are off, but we had about $5 billion of free cash flow coming from Pioneer,” he said on the call.
Mikells said roughly two thirds of the $6 billion projected figure comes from the synergies of increased fossil fuel recovery as the technologies and best practices of the two companies are combined, and the remainder is expected to come from capex efficiencies.
She expects the strong balance sheet and incremental cash flows generated post closing to “provide even more opportunities to enhance shareholder distribution.”
Bountiful free cash flows enjoyed by nearly every E&P allow companies more flexibility in paying off debt and returning capital to shareholders as they hold off on drilling new wells. Mikells said Exxon Mobil will enjoy even more of that flexibility with the Pioneer free cash flow boost.
“Decisions will be made in the future in terms of what we do with that flexibility, but clearly we have more flexibility to enhance shareholder returns,” she said.
“I don’t know if [Exxon’s cash flow projection is] unrealistic. … But it’s ambitious. I think that’s the right way to frame it,” TD Cowen analyst Jason Gabelman said to Hart Energy after the call. But, he said, the projections are in keeping with ambitions Exxon had previously expressed.
“Exxon has consistently talked about a focus on increasing the recovery rates that they’re getting out of the Permian. ... But that’s been difficult for the industry to crack,” Gabelman said. “Exxon’s been talking about it for a while, and I think they seem optimistic they can do it, but it’s one of these things that from the outside, it’s difficult to believe until it’s done.”
On the call with analysts, Mikells and Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods repeatedly promoted the Pioneer acquisition’s promise of greater success at the drill bit.
“When combined with our technology and industry leading operational capabilities, we know that together we can unlock far more value than either of us could alone,” Woods said. “Our combined capabilities will enable us to get more resource out of the ground more efficiently and with a lower environmental impact.”
Whatever the free cash flow boost is, Gabelman said much of it is widely expected to go to dividends and stock buybacks.
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