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More drillers expected to cut executive payouts as oil rout persists


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More drillers expected to cut executive payouts as oil rout persists

While several North American independent oil and gas drillers have announced significant spending cuts in response to collapsing commodity prices, fewer have publicly acknowledged any changes to executive compensation packages for 2020.

So far, Parsley Energy Inc. executive officers have elected to reduce their annual cash compensation by at least 50%, while both Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Matador Resources Co. C-suite members will see base salary cuts of at least 15%.

Christopher Earnest, a partner at independent executive compensation consulting firm Compensation Advisory Partners, said other companies are taking action on bonus payouts and long-term incentive awards like stock options.

"I know of ... two companies [that] have already suspended their bonus programs for the year for their executives; another has limited it to a target payout," he said in an interview. "We've also seen companies taking a 10% to 20% reduction in long-term incentive awards."

Earnest estimates that around 25% to 30% of independent producers have taken measures to adjust executive compensation in some way, and that there will be a wave of announcements over the next month.

"I don't think the optics will be good at all. ... It will be a bit tone-deaf," he said about any companies reluctant to follow suit. "When you're having conversations about layoffs … it doesn't look good when companies are making those decisions and the executives aren't impacted in some way."

Parsley President and CEO Matt Gallagher said in a March 18 statement that "this is not a time for indecision or half measures" and told S&P Global Market Intelligence in an email that "our suppliers and our employees ... need comfort that we are in it together."

Oil and gas industry analysts at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey wrote in a March 18 note to clients that Parsley's announcement was "what we have been waiting for from all E&Ps."

When it comes to the oilfield services sector, meanwhile, Earnest noted that those companies may need to take even more drastic actions regarding executive pay to preserve their balance sheets.

Halliburton Co. on March 18 said is implementing a mandatory 60-day furlough for 3,500 employees at one of its Houston campuses to manage costs in a challenging market. The oilfield services major's stock price has plunged 69% since OPEC and Russia failed to reach an agreement on March 6, settling at $4.61 per unit on March 18.

In 2018, Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s Robert Lawler was the highest-paid U.S. oil and gas CEO, with $22.7 million in cash, stock, nonequity incentive plan compensation and options granted, up 52.6% from his 2017 pay package. As of March 19, Chesapeake shares were trading below 20 cents, and the shale driller has reportedly hired restructuring advisers to consider options for reworking debt.