Chesapeake Shares Plunge on CEO Worries, $167 Million Loss

May 2, 2012
Speculation grows over CEO Aubrey McClendon's future with the company.

Shares of embattled U.S. natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy Corp. (IW 500/104) dived Wednesday after it turned in a first-quarter loss and speculation mounted over the fate of its chief executive.

Shares plunged 13.6% to $16.94 in midday New York trade. On Tuesday, shares closed 6.3% higher at $19.60.

Chesapeake shares have been under pressure in recent weeks amid media reports that chairman and CEO Aubrey McClendon took out more than $1 billion in personal loans using stakes he owns in company wells.

On Monday, the company announced that McClendon would be replaced as head of the board by someone with no previous "substantive" relationship with Chesapeake.

It also announced McClendon would not receive compensation in connection with an 18-month early termination of a controversial deal that awarded him the right to take shares in the company's wells as part of his pay package.

"McClendon will probably be gone entirely before (a new chairman) is picked. The pressure on the board to fire McClendon altogether is relentless," said Douglas McIntyre, an analyst at 24/

McClendon "was punished for transactions which allowed him to invest in every well the company drilled. The firm's board did not care about the arrangement until the press and some investors began to criticize it," he added.

The nation's second-biggest producer of natural gas after Exxon Mobil Corp. (IW 500/1), Chesapeake reported after the market closed Tuesday a first-quarter net loss of $28 million, after three consecutive quarters of profits.

Chesapeake said its results were damped by a $167 million loss resulting from the company's hedging programs, as prices of natural gas in the United States languished at their lowest level in a decade.

The Oklahoma City, Okla.-based company has been shifting away from natural gas drilling and focusing on oil and liquefied natural gas, meanwhile shedding assets to cope with the changing market.

Last month it announced it the sale of $2.6 billion in assets. The company plans to sell up to $14 billion in assets this year to finance structural investments and reduce a heavy debt pile.

Chesapeake predicted it would limit its full-year loss to $180 million to $200 million, based on a natural gas price of $3.40 per cubic feet. The current price is about $2.40.

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