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Apr 2, 2020

Cenovus halts dividend, cuts spending (again) amid oil crash

Josef Schachter discusses Cenovus Energy

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Cenovus Energy Inc. has unveiled another round of measures designed to protect its balance sheet amid persistently low crude oil prices.

The Calgary-based oil producer Thursday cut this year's capital spending budget by an additional $150 million, for a total of $600 million in cuts when accounting for savings announced in early March. Meantime, it's planning $150 million in cumulative reductions to operating as well as general and administrative costs.

Cenovus is also suspending its dividend. It noted the payout to shareholders – which had most recently been set at 6.25 cents per share – was based on West Texas Intermediate crude oil at US$45 per barrel. WTI closed at US$20.31 on Wednesday. 

“It is challenging to predict the duration and depth of these unprecedented low commodity prices. We have positioned the company with ample liquidity and a strong balance sheet to manage through this unpredictable global downturn,” Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix said in the release.

Cenovus also announced salary cuts at its highest levels Thursday, including a 25-per-cent reduction for Pourbaix.

Cenovus' cash-saving decisions were welcomed in the analyst community, with Credit Suisse’s Manav Gupta estimating they add up to an additional $600 million in free cash flow.

“While normally, suspension of a dividend is viewed negatively by the market, in current circumstances preserving the balance sheet is considered most important for survival. We don’t believe Cenovus’s decision to suspend its dividend would be viewed negatively.”

Gupta added he believes dividends at oil patch giants Suncor Energy Inc. and Imperial Oil Ltd. are “completely safe for the time being”, while predicting Husky Energy Inc. will soon suspend its payout to shareholders, and that Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. “could decide either way.”