Lower break-even prices after a period of cost cutting and efficiency measures should continue to drive cash flow for many of the largest U.S. integrated oil and natural gas companies this year, S&P Global Ratings said in a March 19 report.
Reduced spending as well as lower operating costs worked to boost free cash generation for these companies at a time when crude oil prices are trending at softer levels than those seen prior to 2014.
"Sustained cost cutting since 2014 and a continuing focus on efficiency through logistics optimization, design standardization, and digitization, among others, has rebased the cost profile of the upstream industry," the report said.
Additionally, while keeping a lid on capital expenditures, many of these same majors are likely to see production growth in the near-term.
"Chasing volume growth led to some of the previous decade's cost inflation. Demonstrably, this isn't happening now, reflecting a focus on profitable, high-margin barrels, especially from newer developments," Ratings wrote.
The analysts said that many of the recent larger production ramp-ups are a result of initial investment decisions made five years ago. While total capital invested may not equate to the fattest returns, the start-up and production costs are relatively modest.
"The other point is that companies are now extracting much more bang for their development capex buck," the report said, pointing to weaker drillship rates and compressed construction margins. "In a nutshell, $100 million of development or oilfield spending goes a lot further now than five years ago."