Breaking News
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your experience. Save up to 40% More details

Record debts come due for Canadian oil patch after five years of crisis

CommoditiesJul 05, 2020 07:15AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An oil & gas pump jack near Granum

By Rod Nickel and Jeff Lewis

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/TORONTO (Reuters) - Six years ago, Canadian oilfield services firm Calfrac Well Services (TO:CFW) commanded a C$2.1 billion ($1.55 billion)market value and was poised for U.S. expansion.

But by last month, Calfrac's market value had collapsed to just C$23 million and it deferred an interest payment on debt that does not mature for six years. The Texas billionaire Wilks brothers, already its top shareholder, scooped up more of the company's debts in June, a regulatory filing showed, preparing to salvage what they can from restructuring.

The Canadian industry has borrowed heavily to survive a series of catastrophes, and is facing C$6 billion in refinancing in the next six months, the Bank of Canada said in May.

This year's maturing energy debts are the most on record for the fourth year in a row and a more than 40% increase over 2019, according to Refinitiv data. They are an existential threat for some companies during the worst industry crisis in decades, while others with stronger credit ratings may buy time in exchange for higher rates that hobble bottom lines.

Companies have two main options as unaffordable debts mature - swap debt for equity or convince noteholders to extend maturity, said Kevin Fougere, partner in law firm Torys LLP.

The list of energy companies with maturing debts includes some oilpatch giants, although top producer Canadian Natural (NYSE:CNQ) Resources Ltd (TO:CNQ) and pipeline operator Enbridge Inc (TO:ENB) have already taken steps to cover them.

Smaller players face more drastic changes.

Bonavista Energy Corp (TO:BNP) last month announced a proposed recapitalization to reduce debt, shrinking existing equity values and resulting in a stock delisting.

The pace of restructurings and bankruptcies has been slow as banks have little desire to own assets, and as rebounding oil prices offer hope, said Alan Ross, regional managing partner with law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.

"There's a lot of extend, amend and pretend with respect to finance documentation," he said. "But at some point the music will stop."

When oil prices (CLc1) crashed in 2014, Canada's oilpatch struggled to recover as quickly as other countries due to problems getting new pipelines built. Companies cut costs and borrowed to survive. Then this year, the coronavirus pandemic hammered oil demand, dealing the biggest blow in decades.

Too many producers gorged on cheap debt to fund operations as share prices lagged and investors soured on new equity issues, said Raymond James analyst Jeremy McCrea.

"Even if they kick the can down the road, it's still going to be an over-arching issue," he said.

Potential credit rating downgrades of investment grade bonds could more than triple the amount of high-yield energy-related bonds, which are already the most of any Canadian sector in the high yield category, according to the Bank of Canada.


For Calfrac, 19.8%-owned by the Wilks brothers, its story moved from riches to rags so fast that it could not afford even an $18 million interest payment.

Calfrac, which provides fracking, coiled tubing and cementing services on wells, went public in 2004 as prices began ascending vertigo-inducing heights.

Prices crashed in 2014 and two years later, the company cut 500 jobs. Even so, in 2017, Calfrac moved into the U.S. Permian basin.

After years of profit, losses began in 2015 and have continued, excluding one-time items.

This year's price collapse has led Canadian producers to curtail output and to scrap drilling plans, hurting service companies like Calfrac.

"Everything came to a grinding halt, and they got caught before they could start to clean up the leverage," said Rafi Tahmazian, senior portfolio manager at Canoe Financial, Calfrac's sixth-largest shareholder.

Peer Trican Well Service (TO:TCW), by contrast, has taken a cautious approach, Tahmazian said.

Calfrac cut operating expenses 23% from 2014-2019, while revenue dropped 35%. Trican chopped expenses by 69% as revenue plunged 74%, including the sale of some businesses, according to Refinitiv data.

In June, after Calfrac missed the interest payment, it said it would work with advisors to examine its options. Dan Wilks acquired about one-quarter of Calfrac's second-lien debt for $18.4 million, the filing showed, giving his Wilks Brothers investment group added sway over the company's future.

Efforts to reach Wilks Brothers were unsuccessful. Dan Wilks has also acquired stakes in hard-hit U.S. service firms.

Since deferring its interest payment on $432 million in debt, Calfrac has 30 days, barring an extension, to pay or work out another solution before a default that could result in restructuring through bankruptcy, Stifel FirstEnergy (NYSE:FE) analyst Ian Gillies said.

Calfrac President Lindsay (NYSE:LNN) Link declined to comment on options during its delayed quarterly conference call on June 25.

"We do not believe a return to normal activity levels will occur in the near term," he said. In a statement, the company said it has the ability and capacity to make the interest payment.

It declined further comment.

Smaller producers with scant ability to sell assets or raise new debt or equity face a "refinancing wall," said Victor Vallance, senior vice-president, energy, at credit rater DBRS Morningstar.

"You're going to see more consolidation," he predicted.

Government loans have been little help.

In the meantime, lenders are weighing their confidence in management teams and assessing operating costs to decide how flexible they should be, Fougere, of Torys said.

"The banks will determine who the winners and losers are."

(GRAPHIC: Digging through debt:

Record debts come due for Canadian oil patch after five years of crisis

Related Articles

Oil rises as U.S. storm aftermath squeezes supply
Oil rises as U.S. storm aftermath squeezes supply By Reuters - Sep 21, 2021

By Ahmad Ghaddar LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Tuesday, after sharp losses the previous session, amid tighter U.S. supplies, ending days of losses as global markets remain...

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email