DBRS Limited (DBRS Morningstar) upgraded Cenovus Energy Inc.’s (Cenovus or the Company) Issuer Rating and Senior Unsecured Debt rating to BBB (high) from BBB and the Company’s Preferred Shares rating to Pfd-3 (high) from Pfd-3. All trends are Stable. The upgrades follow the significant reduction in gross debt ($4.3 billion in 2022), which has improved the Company's credit metrics and financial risk profile. The Stable trends reflect DBRS Morningstar's expectation that the reduction in gross debt will allow the Company to maintain its lease-adjusted debt-to-cash flow ratio at around 1.50 times (x) under DBRS Morningstar's base-case commodity price assumptions (see “DBRS Morningstar Updates Oil and Natural Gas Price Forecasts: Midcycle Pricing Band Widened and Oil Price Forecast Raised” dated September 26, 2022).
Stronger commodity prices, noncore asset sales, and a focus on reducing debt have allowed Cenovus to deleverage materially and well ahead of DBRS Morningstar's expectation at the close of the acquisition of Husky Energy Inc (Husky Acquisition). Cenovus continues to prioritize deleveraging and expects to direct approximately 50% of the expected excess free funds flow (cash flow less capex, base dividends on common and preferred shares, decommissioning liabilities, and principal repayment of leases, plus proceeds from asset divestitures) surplus toward the balance sheet until it achieves its revised net debt (debt excluding operating leases and netting out of cash) target of $4.0 billion (Q3 2022: $5.28 billion). Based on its base-case commodity price assumptions, DBRS Morningstar expects Cenovus to reach its net debt target in Q1 2023. The rating upgrade is driven by DBRS Morningstar’s assessment that the reduction in gross debt in 2022 and achievement of its net debt target should allow the Company to maintain its financial risk profile commensurate with the rating through commodity price cycles. DBRS Morningstar also believes that the improvement in balance sheet strength provides the Company the flexibility to address challenges and costs associated with meeting voluntary and regulatory mandated greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets.
Cenovus’ business risk profile is strong and is underpinned by its (1) significant size (production of 777.9 thousand barrels of oil equivalent per day (Mboe/d) and upgrader/refinery throughput of 533.5 thousand barrels (bbl) per day in Q3 2022); (2) integrated upstream and downstream operations; and (3) long-life, low-cost oil sands assets at Foster Creek and Christina Lake and contracted production in Asia-Pacific. DBRS Morningstar expects the Company to maintain its business risk profile with a modest increase in near-term production driven by the Sunrise acquisition and optimization/debottlenecking projects at the Company’s oil sands assets and medium term growth through further optimization of oil sands assets and the West White Rose (WWR) project. Cenovus’ downstream integration is also expected to improve with the acquisition of the remaining stake in the Toledo refinery (expected to close in 2023), startup of the Superior refinery in Q1 2023, and capital investments aimed at optimizing and reducing operating costs at its downstream operations. The Company’s business risk profile remains constrained by its exposure to lower margin heavy and thermal oil and high concentration of oil-producing assets in Western Canada.
Cenovus expects production in 2023 to average between 800 Mboe/d and 840 Mboe/d with a budgeted capex of $4.0 billion to $4.5 billion. While capex in 2023 is higher relative to 2022 because of cost inflation and committed capital spend on the WWR project, it also includes a growth/discretionary component of $0.5 billion to $1 billion (excluding the WWR project), which could be scaled back if required. DBRS Morningstar expects the Company to generate a material free cash flow (cash flow after capex and dividends) surplus in 2023 and 2024 despite DBRS Morningstar’s expectation that the WTI price of crude oil will decline to the middle of DBRS Morningstar’s midcycle pricing band of USD 50 to USD 70 per barrel (/bbl) over the period. DBRS Morningstar expects the Company’s liquidity position to remain strong with its committed credit facilities totalling $5.5 billion remaining largely unused.
A further upgrade would require the Company to reduce gross debt and improve its lease-adjusted debt-to-cash flow ratio to consistently around 1.00x. Conversely, should oil prices weaken materially (below USD $45/bbl) and credit metrics stay weak for an extended period, DBRS Morningstar may take a negative rating action.
ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL, GOVERNANCE CONSIDERATIONS
DBRS Morningstar considered carbon and GHG costs as a relevant environmental factor for Cenovus. This factor is relevant because ever-increasing environmental regulations in Canada targeting the reduction of GHG emissions will likely limit the growth potential and add costs for all oil and gas companies in Canada and in particular for Cenovus, which has greater exposure to more carbon-intensive oil sands developments. Cenovus is in a stronger position today to face the challenges associated with reducing GHG emissions than it was a couple of years ago. Cenovus has deleveraged the balance sheet to provide for much needed financial flexibility to navigate the energy transition path.
There were no Social/Governance factors that had a significant or relevant effect on the credit analysis.
A description of how DBRS Morningstar considers ESG factors within the DBRS Morningstar analytical framework can be found in the DBRS Morningstar Criteria: Approach to Environmental, Social, and Governance Risk Factors in Credit Ratings at https://www.dbrsmorningstar.com/research/396929/dbrs-morningstar-criteria-approach-to-environmental-social-and-governance-risk-factors-in-credit-ratings (May 17, 2022).
All figures are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted.
The principal methodologies are Global Methodology for Rating Companies in the Oil and Gas and Oilfield Services Industries (August 31, 2022; https://www.dbrsmorningstar.com/research/402196) and DBRS Morningstar Global Criteria: Preferred Share and Hybrid Security Criteria for Corporate Issuers (October 20, 2022; https://www.dbrsmorningstar.com/research/404248), which can be found on dbrsmorningstar.com under Methodologies & Criteria.
A description of how DBRS Morningstar analyzes corporate finance transactions and how the methodologies are collectively applied can be found at: https://www.dbrsmorningstar.com/research/397223/interplay-of-global-corporate-finance-rating-methodologies-when-analyzing-corporate-finance-transactions.
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