Chevron Earnings Call Insights: Argentine Acquisition and Permian Capabilities

Chevron Corp (NYSE:CVX) recently reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Argentine Acquisition

Paul Sankey – Deutsche Bank: On the recent acquisition commitments in Argentina. It comes at a time when your CapEx is very elevated and additionally, I think, there has been some legal issue around the move. Can you just underline for us why you are making a move like that at a time as you said when your CapEx is little elevated and where – you are going to write some legal complexity that you probably really don’t need?

George L. Kirkland – Vice Chairman and EVP of Upstream: Well, Paul, it always starts back at what’s the opportunity set out there and how does it compete in the future. We like the Vaca Muerta opportunity from a technical point of view. When you look at it technically, this opportunity – much of the shale is in the 1,000 foot range of thickness so it’s very attractive that way. We’ve been in Argentina a long period of time, so we understand, I think, Argentina quite well, so we feel comfortable that way, and we always have, when there are portfolio some ability to spend our money in different ways. We have the ability because of our large base business programs that we can move some monies around. And I go back to the other point would be that opportunities are there when they are available, and this one is available. On the legal side, I would start off and say, first off, we really don’t believe there’s any legitimate legal claim against us. So that’s – we’re pretty confident about that, we think we’re in a good position there. Back on the development itself, we see this very much as a stage development over a longer period of time. The initial work is 100 wells and depending upon that success we will move forward from there. We also see Argentina as a country that’s got a large resource potential. We really believe that over the long period of time they can move from an importer to potentially an exporter of crude. Once again the time for the opportunity was now…

Paul Sankey – Deutsche Bank: I was just going to follow on, I reference, you yourselves had referenced that this is a high intensity period of CapEx with the dual Australian LNG projects above all simultaneously in your Q. Can you talk your longer term CapEx and the potential to bring that down with a view to generating more free cash flow or are you intending to push through to try and grow the company beyond the existing 3.3 million barrel of oil equivalent target that you have for 2017?

George L. Kirkland – Vice Chairman and EVP of Upstream: First of all I am going to try to disconnect those two, they are not necessarily totally connected. At our March meeting when we met in New York, we told people that we see a growth beyond 3.3 we did not disclose what that growth would be it’s a little premature to go there but we do see growth beyond that. One of the points that we talked about at that time was that growth that we saw that would be coming from our future growth project and the well pressure management project in Tengiz. When we had originally committed to our 3.3 about 80,000 barrels a day of our growth to 2017 was related to the Tengiz expansion. And that project is not going to be online in 2017. So it contributes to significant growth and remember the Tengiz project in total will add expansion will add about 130,000 to 140,000 barrels a day of net production for Chevron. So we do see growth beyond 2017, but likewise, we always see some projects that tend to move a little bit to the right, move a little bit later. So, we take that money and invest it in other opportunities because we have a very strong portfolio. I would tell you as we get Gorgon and Wheatstone completed those investments, we do not have anything as large in our portfolio on a capital expenditure basis as large as those. So, from that perspective, we will see some decline in our capital program in a relative sense, but remember, we’re also going to be a lot bigger in the barrel side. We will have a lot more barrels. So, our cash flows will be high. We’ve got very strong margins. So, we’ve got that combination to go forward. So, it’s a combination of things that move around, but remember portfolio, lot of barrels, lot of barrel growth, 25% growth, we are looking at holding our margins, our margins, which are industry-leading. We think we will hold them. So, we’re going to have cash flow growth and a flattening and I would call it more a flattening of our capital program going forward.

Permian Capabilities

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley: George, thanks for the update on the Upstream projects and clear on the free cash flow. My first question is on the Permian. There has clearly been a lot of exciting industry results, the Cimarex joint venture. I know, you are building the technology center there. I mean can you quantify at all for us the activity ramp or potential organic growth there in the Basin and how Chevron is building or expanding its Permian capabilities to run a bigger organization? I will follow-up.

George L. Kirkland – Vice Chairman and EVP of Upstream: Well, maybe I’ll start back with what we said in March of this year. We expect to drill over 300 wells in the Permian Basin. In the Midland Basin itself, we see growth in the Delaware Basin. Remember, we added the Chesapeake acreage in New Mexico; two acreage we’d already have there. This recent Cimarex deal in Permian is really a wall, its bringing together a checkerboard of acreage of ours and Cimarex. Why do we do that? Well, we do that to increase efficiency and effectiveness of the dollars we spend. We reduce geographic acreage loss if you will. We can drill longer laterals. So it’s just a much more efficient way to develop that acreage. As we said in March, we are going to see our rig count grow considerably over this period. I don’t think we’ve done anything post-March that doesn’t fit with the plans that we showed at the March meeting. Our plans are pretty consistent in that growth profile both in acreage and in barrels. We do expect that our net production to grow towards in the Permian Basin into that 200,000 barrels.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley: I mean just any color?

George L. Kirkland – Vice Chairman and EVP of Upstream: Go ahead…

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley: Yeah, I didn’t know if there’s any color on the technology center that you are building or people addition or just what investments you are making to build an infrastructure that would support more significant organic growth there?

George L. Kirkland – Vice Chairman and EVP of Upstream: We will. We’ve committed to a tech center there. We are starting a building a significant building project there office project. We have purchased land and moving forward with building that. And I would also tell you, remember we’ve got a big support function for that unit also out of Houston. So I think we are in good shape on what we have in Midland and we have a strong commitment, we got lots of acreage in Midland and the Permian Basin and the Delaware Basin are our long term assets for us. I don’t really have any thing that’s new beyond what we presented in March.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley: If I could, second just quickly on Gorgon, can you provide any update on cost trends or color since your guidance earlier in the year or when or what key milestones will trigger and any cost update there?

George L. Kirkland – Vice Chairman and EVP of Upstream: Well I would tell you we are always looking at the cost and watching the cost we review the project once every month from my level and John Watson, we both have a project review once a month. We look at progress, we look at cost, we look at issues, we look at mitigations that our project team are putting in place. And as you know a big project like this there is always issues that people are solving problems. And our people are very good at that. I mentioned today that we really think we have solved the issue around the logistics that was important for us. We are not going to know a lot more on costs till we get really much further in, we don’t see any major disconnects at this point. We see as an example the first half of the year exchange rates are really pretty close to what we assumed in your plan. It’s the first part of the year. The rates were higher than parity. The second quarter they were down, but for the year they are pretty close and now we are seeing a shift in exchange rates that are – in our – positive for us with the exchange rates coming down and we are in a period where we’ve got major expenditures in Australia. We’ve got a lot of moving parts there. So, we can always tell where we’ve been a lot better than where everything is going, and any issues, we once again we try to mitigate those as they go. But I don’t see anything major on the cost side. It’s still back to productivity and I’ll emphasize it’s so critical to get productivity on Barrow Island and it’s important for us to have good weather. Weather is an extremely important part of our success there and we are in the good part of the year, right now. Between now and December we’re outside of major weather impacts. So we are in a period that we get to December we will know an awful lot more. We are 67% now and every time you get a little bit closer towards 100%, you can do a lot better forecasting.