For a CEO, talking to investors is tricky. You want to give a sunny picture of the company, whatever the reality. But you also want, and are legally obligated, to tell the truth. And you want to give the sense that what speculators are doing with the stock concerns you less than what you're actually doing with the company. It's a complex juggling act.
Alternatively, if you're Al Walker, CEO of shale oil driller Anadarko Petroleum, you can do this:
The biggest problem our industry faces today is you guys. You don’t reward capital efficiency, you reward growth. When you guys stop rewarding growth and reward capital efficiency, guess what — and the share prices react, people will stop chasing growth for growth’s sake. As long as investors continue to invest in companies with growth with marginal wellhead economics, you’ll get more growth. So you guys can help us, help ourselves.
The comments, courtesy of Infill Thinking via OilPro, read like a Bulworth moment for an executive facing the impossible conundrum that shale drillers currently face, with private equity and bond investors showering cash on growth prospects even as hedge funds and equity investors pull back in fear of a shale shakeout to match the 2016 bloodbath. The result is increasing bearishness among investors already fretful that the oil glut is sticking around for awhile.
The only way out of this bind if you're a CEO, of course, is to hurl insults and blame at the people handing you the money you asked for in the first place – preferably with an analogy that turns you into a helpless wino:
This is kind of like going to AA. We need a partner. We need somebody to sit through that class with us, but we do. I mean, we really need the investment community to show discipline, just like you’re asking us, I think, appropriately so in this environment, to show discipline. We need you to be disciplined in the way you allocate your investment dollars because first off: a) most of you are not getting big funds flows right now; b) you’re underweight in energy because you’ve made sector bets that are probably a better place to be than energy in the foreseeable future, and those of you that are in energy that want to stay in energy you are probably doing some securities rotation right now. All of that’s understandable.
The first step of AA, of course, is admitting you have a problem, so props to Walker for that act of humility. But it's probably not wise to ask the bartender to be your sponsor. That's just not his job.
Walker ends on a hopeful note:
So just think about trying to look at situations where capital efficiency actually can be rewarded and that’s not a company-specific comment, it’s more of a generic, because the more the capital-efficient companies are rewarded in the marketplace and growth is not, then you guys will help us help ourselves and we’ll be in a better place, but if you keep rewarding growth without return, you’re just going to help compound the problem that we have today, where I think a lot of us feel very much in need of showing growth because if you’re a growth and value investor, you need to see little bit of both.
Got that? Good. Now be a good boy and go buy some XES.