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Chesapeake’s $7.4bn acquisition of Southwestern Energy


Vice President: Leonardo Bassino

Analysts: Joshua Cayaban, Raashi Parekh, Mustafaa Ahmed, Heehun Seol, Shagun Shrivastava, Darrel Tan


Deal Overview


Acquirer: Chesapeake Energy Corporation

Acquiree: Southwestern Energy Co.

Deal Size: $7.4 billion

Buy Side Advisors: Evercore Inc. and JP Morgan Securities LLC (financial)

Sell Side Advisors: Goldman Sachs & Co LLC, RBC Capital Markets LLC, BofA Securities Inc.,

and Wells Fargo Securities LLC (financial)


Introduction


Chesapeake Energy Corporation, based in Oklahoma City, has agreed to acquire Southwestern Energy Co. in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $7.4 billion. This acquisition, expected to close in the second quarter, will position Chesapeake as the largest natural gas producer in the United States. The deal involves a payment of $6.69 per share and will result in Chesapeake assuming a new name post-closing.


This strategic move allows Chesapeake to expand its holdings in the Marcellus basin in Appalachia and the Haynesville basin across Louisiana and east Texas. The acquisition is seen as a response to the growing demand for natural gas, both domestically and overseas, particularly for US exports of liquefied natural gas via the Gulf of Mexico. Chesapeake's CEO, Nick Dell’Osso, emphasized the importance of this deal in meeting the increasing global energy demands.


Deal Structure


The deal structure for Chesapeake Energy Corporation's acquisition of Southwestern Energy Co. is an all-stock transaction valued at approximately $7.4 billion, with Chesapeake offering $6.69 per share. This strategic move is expected to create a dominant force in the natural gas sector, particularly in the Marcellus and Haynesville basins. The structure of the deal reflects Chesapeake's commitment to expanding its natural gas portfolio and aligns with its strategic shift towards becoming a more pure-play natural gas company.


Financially, this acquisition is significant as it represents a consolidation in the energy sector, where companies are increasingly looking to merge to enhance their market positions and operational efficiencies. The all-stock nature of the deal suggests a focus on preserving liquidity and capital, which is crucial in the capital-intensive energy industry. For Southwestern shareholders, the deal offers an opportunity to be part of a larger, more diversified entity, potentially leading to greater market resilience and growth prospects.


The deal also involves expanding Chesapeake's board to include representatives from Southwestern, ensuring a smooth integration and alignment of interests. This acquisition is set against the backdrop of a growing demand for natural gas, both domestically and internationally, particularly for liquefied natural gas exports. Chesapeake's move to acquire Southwestern positions it to capitalize on this demand, potentially leading to increased shareholder value and a stronger competitive stance in the global energy market.


Chesapeake Energy Corporation Overview


Chesapeake Energy Corporation, based in Oklahoma City, is a leading force in the American energy sector, specializing in the exploration and production of natural gas, oil, and natural gas liquids. Founded in 1989, the company has grown to be one of the top natural gas producers in the United States, with significant operations in major onshore areas like the Marcellus Shale, Eagle Ford Shale, and Haynesville Shale. In recent years, Chesapeake has strategically pivoted towards a more focused natural gas production approach, divesting from oil assets to align with the global shift towards cleaner energy sources.


The company is renowned for its innovative contributions to the energy industry, particularly in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which have revolutionized shale gas extraction. These technological advancements have not only boosted Chesapeake's operational efficiency but also cemented its position as an industry leader. Financially, Chesapeake is known for its disciplined approach, prioritizing asset optimization and debt reduction. This financial prudence is complemented by a strong commitment to environmental responsibility, emphasizing safety, reducing environmental impact, and engaging actively with communities.


Southwestern Energy Co. Overview


Southwestern Energy Co. is a leading energy company primarily focused on natural gas exploration, development, and production. With a strong presence in the United States, Southwestern Energy has been a significant player in the Marcellus and Haynesville basins, known for their rich natural gas reserves. The company's strategic approach has been centered around sustainable and responsible energy production, with an emphasis on operational efficiency and environmental stewardship.


Southwestern Energy's portfolio includes some of the most productive natural gas assets in the U.S., making it an attractive acquisition target for companies like Chesapeake. The company's expertise in natural gas extraction and commitment to innovation have positioned it as a key player in the energy sector. Southwestern's approach to business has been marked by a commitment to safety, community engagement, and environmental sustainability, aligning with the broader industry's shift towards more responsible energy production practices.


The acquisition by Chesapeake Energy Corporation represents a significant milestone in Southwestern Energy's history, promising to create a combined entity with enhanced capabilities, greater market reach, and a stronger position in the global energy landscape.


Industry Analysis


Market Overview in Q4 2023


The fourth quarter commenced with a substantial uptick in front-month futures prices, the primary determinants of gas price benchmarks. This surge was primarily attributed to the seasonal shift into winter months, marked by higher pricing throughout the year due to increased demand in colder weather. Geopolitical unrest, including damage to Balticconnector and the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East, added to heightened volatility and elevated prices in October. However, as November and December unfolded, gas markets stabilized, with the impact of geopolitical events diminishing. Mild weather in the NWE region and robust supply from high storage levels led to a gradual decline in prices.


Price Trends and Performance


Throughout Q4 2023, the average front-month price of the European natural gas benchmark, ICE Endex TTF, was recorded at 43.289 EUR/MWh. Additionally, the ICE TTF forward price for the nearest full month, Feb 2024, closed at 32.35 EUR/MWh on December 29.




Stability in European Gas Storages


European gas storages maintained historically high levels during Q4, playing a pivotal role in ensuring gas supply stability across the continent, especially during the heightened demand of winter. A reliance solely on LNG shipments would prove insufficient to meet the increased demand during this winter period. Europe entered the winter with historically high storage levels, owing to strong LNG inflows during the summer, enabling high injection levels. Since the first half of November, European storages have been in net withdrawal mode. The shift to withdrawal mode occurred slightly later than in previous years, as temperatures across NWE remained relatively mild during Q4 compared to seasonal averages, resulting in lower heating demand.



Global Impact of Middle-East Geopolitical Events


In the midst of global attention, the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East in October disrupted natural gas supply, initially due to the Tamar field shutdown in Israel for safety reasons. The Tamar field supplies gas through pipelines to Jordan, an LNG importer, and to Egypt, an LNG exporter. This disruption meant that Egypt could export less LNG, and Jordan had to import higher LNG amounts from elsewhere, exerting pressure on global LNG prices. However, as the Tamar field contributes only around 1.5% of the global LNG supply (Goldman Sachs), and the complete shutdown was brief, the impact on global prices remained limited after the initial shock that caused a price spike and volatility in the first part of October.


Current State of the Industry


Global demand for oil and gas continues to grow, on track to cross the 100 mbpd mark for the first time in history. ONG giants such as Exxon and Chevron have benefited greatly from the drastic increase in oil prices since the Russia-Ukraine crisis, a key factor in the current strong position of the industry in 2024. Barring any unprecedented events, oil and gas will follow suit on this year’s solid start, likely enabled to finance both investments and dividends. Consequently, it can support its disciplined capital program and shareholder-focused strategy. As an example, the global upstream industry is on course to maintain 580 billion USD of hydrocarbon investments - an 11% year-over-year increase. Projected FCF is at 800 billion USD for the 2024-2025 period. 


However, the world is ‘short energy’. Natural gas prices suffered multi-year lows in 2023 and while there was a spike in prices during Russia-Ukraine, this high did not last. Ideally, we should observe four key disruptors for the energy landscape - geopolitics, macroeconomic variables, evolving policies and the emergence of new technology. The last one in particular is of interest to us - global demand for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, shipments from the United States Gulf Coast are projected to jump due to new export terminals. Producers are aiming to acquire a larger stake in these exports due to the persistent rises in supply, increasing well above domestic demand. While this has created a slight inventory and profit problem, the expectations for rising gas demand from LNG exporters has ‘created some impetus to move’ (Dell’Osso). 


Conclusively, spending on ONG has taken on a conservative approach, with US producers aligning themselves to cut costs and secure future productive capacity. With a majority of the best drilling locations in the US already owned, companies have recognised that in order to keep growing, it is imperative that they buy up their rivals with access to choice sites. There have been a series of multi-billion dollar deals in the US energy sector, a few examples being Exxon-Pioneer for 60 billion USD and Occidental-CrownRock for 10.8 billion. 


Chesapeake-Southwestern will be the largest natural gas producer in the country on completion of the deal, and may be subject to high levels of scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission. It is also important to realise that the aforementioned strong financial position of the industry will most probably raise expectations of relevant stakeholders. Augmented investments in low-carbon energy, technological advances in emissions reduction and higher shareholder profits are on the table for these investors and regulators, which will spur them on to act in accordance with changes in the industry. Companies will likely be encouraged to focus further on the shareholders’ expectations and push the oil and gas industry towards all-time highs. 


Deal Rationale


The merger of Chesapeake Energy and Southwestern Energy promises to revolutionize the energy sector by capitalizing on revenue synergies, such as expanded market access, and cost synergies, like streamlined operations. This strategic collaboration sets the stage for sustainable growth and value creation in the natural gas industry.


Revenue Synergies


The merger between Chesapeake Energy and Southwestern Energy represents a pivotal moment in the energy sector, as two major players join forces to create a formidable entity. Both companies operate out of Haynesville, but Southwestern brings significant Appalachian activity to the table. This strategic alignment not only consolidates their presence in key regions but also unlocks synergies that enhance revenue generation and market access. The overlap in the companies’ Haynesville activity is expected to generate significant advantages, optimizing resource allocation and driving cost efficiencies. Additionally, Southwestern’s operations in the Appalachian region provide Chesapeake with access to new markets and valuable resources, further bolstering revenue streams and market penetration. The merger enhances Chesapeake’s ability to meet demand in the Gulf Coast area, which is home to most of the LNG plants in the country. This strategic positioning enables the combined entity to capitalize on the growing demand for LNG, leveraging its expanded portfolio and operational capabilities to drive revenue growth and market expansion. Southwestern’s President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Way's statement further underscores the revenue synergies, "Together, Southwestern and Chesapeake can drive improved margins and returns from our highly complementary portfolios through enhanced scale, capital allocation flexibility, and access to premium markets to supply growing global natural gas demand."


Cost Synergies


Identified synergies totalling approximately $400 million annually will significantly enhance shareholder value by improving capital efficiencies and operating margins. Operational and overhead synergies will be realized through various initiatives, including longer laterals, lower drilling and completion costs, G&A reductions and the utilization of shared operational infrastructure. The consolidation of operations in key regions, such as the Haynesville and Marcellus basins, is expected to generate substantial cost savings. These savings, amounting to approximately $200 million in corporate and regional cost savings, will primarily result from decreased regulatory fees and the removal of duplicative personnel. Additionally, operational optimization measures are projected to deliver approximately $130 million in drilling and completion cost savings and $70 million in miscellaneous operating cost cuts.


Risks


While the merger presents significant opportunities, it does not come without risks. A deal of this magnitude could raise regulatory questions as the combination of the two E&Ps would put a substantial portion of Haynesville Shale production and Marcellus Shale volumes under its control. J.P. Morgan analysts noted that any deal would fall under regulatory scrutiny, since, combined, Chesapeake and Southwestern produce 21% of Appalachia’s gross volumes and 25% of the Haynesville’s. In 2023, the companies’ combined Haynesville production averaged 3,297 MMcfe/d, while in the Marcellus they combined for an average 4,651 MMcfe/d. Government approval will be critical, and any delays or restrictions could impact the timeline and success of the merger. 


The natural gas market is inherently volatile, influenced by factors such as geopolitical events, supply-demand dynamics, and regulatory changes. Fluctuations in gas prices could impact the profitability and financial performance of the merged entity, posing risks to shareholder value. Additionally, integrating two large companies with distinct operational structures, cultures, and geographic footprints presents operational integration challenges. Ensuring a seamless transition will require meticulous planning and effective execution capabilities to avoid disruptions and operational inefficiencies.


Discounted Cash Flows Valuation - Southwestern Energy




Market Multiples Analysis - Southwestern Energy



Conclusion


Chesapeake’s $7.4B acquisition of Southwestern Energy is set to position the energy giant as the largest natural gas producer in the United States. Chesapeake, which successfully expanded and secured its operations in major onshore areas like the Marcellus Shale, Eagle Ford Shale, and Haynesville Shale over the years, now has the opportunity to inorganically extend its holdings in the Marcellus basin in Appalachia and the Haynesville basin across Louisiana and east Texas through the acquisition.


The transaction aligns with Chesapeake’s commitment to guiding the global shift towards greener energy sources by divesting from oil and effectively integrating more natural gas operations into its business model. The acquisition of Southwestern allows for a smoother, quicker, and less expensive transition towards the LNG industry. Furthermore, the acquisition effectively serves as a hedge against growing volatility in the energy markets following instabilities in the Middle Eastern region. The growing risk of a surge in oil and LNG prices requires energy firms to solidify their Asset portfolios, ensuring a better positioning in case of supply-chain disruptions and minimizing the impact on future cash flows. The expansion in the Marcellus basin and the Haynesville basin allows Chesapeake to increase its extraction volumes, positioning the firm to take advantage of potential margin improvements. Indeed, presumed synergies approaching the $400 million mark per year are expected to considerably improve capital efficiencies and operating margins.


In conclusion, should the deal not raise regulatory concerns, we will be able to witness further consolidation in the energy industry, where inorganic growth has become the norm for expansion. Chesapeake’s and Southwestern’s shareholders will benefit from a more diversified and solid firm, optimally positioned to respond to potential instability and inflation in the energy markets.


Sources

  1. www.hartenergy.com. (2024). Potential Chesapeake, Southwestern Merger May Face Tough Scrutiny | Hart Energy. [online] Available at: https://www.hartenergy.com/exclusives/potential-chesapeake-southwestern-merger-may-face-tough-scrutiny-207740 

  2. markets.ft.com. (n.d.). CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORPORATION AND SOUTHWESTERN ENERGY TO COMBINE TO ACCELERATE AMERICA’S ENERGY REACH – Company Announcement - FT.com. [online] Available at: https://markets.ft.com/data/announce/full?dockey=600-202401110600PR_NEWS_USPRX____DA09752-1

  3. Nerkar, S. (2024) Top natural gas producers announce multibillion-dollar mergerThe New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/11/business/chesapeake-southwestern-energy-merger.html

  4. Tobey, J.S. (n.d.). Homebuilder Stock Reversal Ahead? [online] Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johntobey/2024/02/16/homebuilder-stock-reversal-ahead/?

  5. Investors - Chesapeake Energy Corporation. (n.d.). CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORPORATION AND SOUTHWESTERN ENERGY TO COMBINE TO ACCELERATE AMERICA’S ENERGY REACH. [online] Available at: https://investors.chk.com/2024-01-11-CHESAPEAKE-ENERGY-CORPORATION-AND-SOUTHWESTERN-ENERGY-TO-COMBINE-TO-ACCELERATE-AMERICAS-ENERGY-REACH#:~:text=11%2C%202024%20%2FPRNewswire%2F%20%2D%2D

  6. IEA. (n.d.). Medium-Term Gas Report 2023 – Analysis. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/medium-term-gas-report-2023.

  7. News, B. (2024). Chesapeake to Buy US Gas Rival Southwestern for $7.4 Billion - BNN Bloomberg. [online] BNN. Available at: https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/chesapeake-to-buy-us-gas-rival-southwestern-for-7-4-billion-1.2020679#:~:text=(Bloomberg)%20%2D%2D%20Chesapeake%20Energy%20Corp 

  8. Kumar, A. and Somasekhar, A. (2024) Chesapeake to become top US natural gas producer with $7.4 billion ... Available at: https://www.reuters.com/markets/deals/chesapeake-buy-southwestern-energy-74-billion-deal-2024-01-11/

  9. 2024 oil and Gas Industry Outlook (2023) Deloitte Insights. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/oil-and-gas/oil-and-gas-industry-outlook.html 



The opinions expressed in the reports are those of the members of the Junior IB team and are not affiliated with any university or institution. The financial recommendations provided are for educational purposes only and the Junior IB team takes no responsibility for any losses that may occur from implementing any ideas presented in the reports. The Junior IB team is not authorized to provide investment advice. The information, opinions, and estimates presented in the reports reflect the Junior IB team's judgment at the time of publication and are subject to change without notice. The price, value, and income of any securities or financial instruments mentioned in the reports may fluctuate. The Junior IB team has no business relationship with any of the companies mentioned in the reports and does not receive any compensation for their inclusion.


Copyright © February 2024 | The Junior IB.

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