Canadian oil producers buck North American cash flow trends in Q1 2021

Canada’s oil producers contradicted almost every key cash spending pattern across the North American oil and gas industry in Q1, despite enjoying the same increase in operating cash flow thanks to increasing commodity prices, according to new analysis from Evaluate Energy.

Below is a summary of how the 15 producers – which excludes any of Canada’s oilsands majors – bucked two of the key overarching industry trends identified in a new report, available to download here.

Trend #1: Free cash flow surges in Q1

The new report examines 86 U.S. and Canadian oil and gas producers. For most, the sudden injection of Q1 cash flow meant a major increase in free cash flow (the $ difference between operating cash flow and capital spending). The full group of 86 companies in Evaluate Energy’s report recorded a combined US$9.3 billion in free cash flow in Q1 2021, with capex only reaching 53% of operating cash flow. Average free cash flow for the group between 2018 and 2020 was just US$1.4 billion.

This heavily juxtaposes the behaviour of the 15 Canadian oil producers in that group of 86. For them, capex almost matched operating cash flow in two straight quarters following a recent free cash flow high of around C$500 million in Q3 2020. In Q1 2021, the two figures were a mere $43 million apart, meaning capital spending was at a level reaching 95% of operating cash flow in the quarter.

Trend #2: Debt repayment grows at expense of increasing capital spending

With capex increasing almost entirely in line with operating cash flow, the behaviour of Canadian oil producers related to debt repayment was completely different to the rest of the companies in Evaluate Energy’s report.

Comparing Q1 2020 and Q1 2021, the industry at large saw net debt repayments skyrocket to 39% of total cash outflow for the 86 companies as a group, having been around 6% just a year earlier. The rise in operating cash flow in early 2021 saw focus shift quickly to balance sheet repair rather than capital spending.

The 15 Canadian oil producers, however, saw debt repayment fall back in importance year-over-year to just 20% of total cash spending compared to 32% in Q1 2020. It is also worth noting that debt-related spending would still have fallen back in Q1 2021 to 29% of cash outflow even if Enerplus’ Q1 $529 million corporate acquisition-related cash spend had not taken place.

For more on Canada’s oil producers and company-by-company data, as well as the segmented cash flow trends for their U.S.-based counterparts, oilsands producing majors and North American gas-weighted producers, download Evaluate Energy’s cash flow report for Q1 2021 at this link.