Occidental Petroleum Corp on Tuesday slashed its shareholder dividend and unveiled a new round of spending cuts amid an oil-price collapse as investors worried about its future under a heavy debt load and shrinking cash flow.
Occidental last year made an ill-timed bet on continued growth of U.S. shale with its $38 billion purchase of Anadarko Petroleum. That deal has run into a fiscal hurricane with oil prices falling as much as 42% this year and OPEC and Russia launching an oil-price war to regain share from U.S. shale.
The U.S. shale producer’s market value fell this week to $12 billion, less than a third of what it paid last August for rival Anadarko Petroleum, after OPEC launched a oil-price war that sent crude prices to near $30 a barrel.
This year’s oil price collapse left the company with about $40 billion in debt and dwindling means of covering its operating expenses after the $2.8 billion dividend and interest costs.
The reduced dividend on common shares and as much as $1.9 billion in new spending cuts will save the company a combined $4.1 billion to $4.3 billion a year. Shares rose 10% on Tuesday to $13.85.
With the cuts, Occidental can finance its expenses with oil in the low-$30 a barrel range, Chief Executive Vicki Hollub said in a statement. Global oil was trading at under $37 a barrel on Tuesday.
Occidental declined to make Hollub available for an interview. Less than two weeks ago, she had called the dividend “one of the defining characteristics of our company,” and pledged to defend it.
A spokesman declined on Tuesday to say whether the company has approached Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, who holds $10 billion in Occidental preferred shares about the dividend cut or forbearance on its payments. The company did not say how much its oil and gas production would be affected by the spending cuts.
Occidental’s board on Tuesday morning approved a reduced dividend of 44 cents a share annually, down from $3.16 a share, after investors called for a cut, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The up to $4.3 billion in savings “should help stabilize the company in the medium to long term, said Matt Portillo, an analyst with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. He said even with the cuts, Occidental’s high debt remains the “overriding concern.”
“The industry as a whole, with crude at this price, should be thinking of letting production decline for a period of time,” said Portillo.
The company said it will lower 2020 capital spending to between $3.5 billion and $3.7 billion, from its earlier forecast of between $5.2 billion and $5.4 billion and will implement additional cost-cutting measures.
Occidental has already cut an undisclosed number of employees since the acquisition and a person familiar with the matter said additional job cuts could be coming.