ConocoPhillips said this week that it has sold non-core assets worth $250 million in the Lower 48 and bought more acreage in Canada for $120 million in a classic sell high-buy low move aimed at ensuring its low-cost production from a slimmer but more focused portfolio. Conoco boasts an average sustained cost per barrel of just $40.
The company will retain most of its acreage in the Permian, it said, also acquiring some land in the Austin Chalk formation in Louisiana. This formation has not attracted a lot of attention until recently but it is now seeing interest from local drillers. It is too early to say whether it would attract the amount of attention the Permian has enjoyed, but given Conoco’s focus on low-cost production, the Austin Chalk might be a place to watch.
Meanwhile, investors are rewarding Conoco for its strategy of returning more cash to shareholders rather than focusing exclusively on boosting production. Its stock has become the best performer in the U.S. oil industry in the past 12 months, while those among its peers who have come out with upbeat higher capex plans, such as Exxon, have seen their stock decline in the period.
Conoco’s recent moves—and not jut the recent ones, either—suggest the company has learned the 2014 lesson very well and it plans to insulate itself from future price shocks with the prioritization of low-cost production even if it remains unchanged on previous years, which the company now expects.