Chesapeake And SandRidge: Caveat Emptor

Chesapeake And SandRidge: Caveat Emptor

Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) has been through its rough patch, or so it would seem. The company’s mid-2012 stock collapse, owing to allegations of corporate malfeasance and financial shenanigans, is far behind it, and the firm’s stock price has idled around the $17 mark since November.

The firm cannot, however, keep out of the news, even when it’s not doing anything particularly interesting. A Reuters article today dipped into the troubles of SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD), through the lens of the company’s long relationship with Chesapeake. The article was informative, and worrying for investors in both of the companies.

The SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD) CEO, Tom Ward, co-founded Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK), and served as the company’s President and COO until his resignation in 2006. He is now the CEO of SandRidge Energy, and the company has begun to show cracks strikingly similar to those observed in Chesapeake earlier this year.

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When the investigations into Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) became public, a pattern that pervaded the allegations centered around the interconnections between Chesapeake’s finances, and the finances of its CEO, Aubrey McClendon. Similar accusations have now been leveled at Tom Ward.

SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD) has yet to see its share price majorly affected by the allegations. The company’s shares are down by more than 7% in the last three months, but up almost 5% in the last six months. The stock has traded flat in the last moth. The shares stand at $6.70, down around 2% for today, at time of writing.

The specifics of the allegations leveled against SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD) are not know in their entirety, but according to Reuters, the company’s CEO, Tom Ward, received personal loans from the Bank of Oklahoma, a key lender to SandRidge. A very similar allegation has been made against McClendon.

In the years since the firm’s 2007 IPO, Ward has collected compensation of more than $150 million. The firm’s stock price has fallen by almost 80% in that time. Share holders are not happy with the company’s performance, and the accusations of corruption may be the ideal excuse to remove the executive.

Around $67 million of that money came from Ward selling the company stakes in Wells it owned, which had been given to him as part of his compensation package. Aubrey McClendon is known to have a similar deal at Chesapeake, and it has been another source of trouble for that company.

Ward earns a disproportionately high salary, more than the CEO of Chevron according to the Reuters report. Investors who see negative return for the money they are paying him, are bound to be angry. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get anywhere, the case of Aubrey McClendon may be an educational pointer toward Tom Ward’s future.

When the accusations leveled at McClendon by Reuters emerged, the company’s board took decisive, and ineffectual, action. McClendon was quickly removed from the company’s board, where he held the position of Chairman. His position as the company’s CEO remained unchallenged.

McClendon’s punishment was a slap on the wrist, the executive, who is accused of running a secret hedge fund inside Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK), was not seen at public engagements for a couple months, but reemerged last Autumn. Chesapeake Energy Corporation stock has been trading at fairly consistent levels since mid-Novemeber.

The biggest danger currently facing Ward and the SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD) board, is that the TPG-Exon bid to have its board removed succeeds. The CEO could find his job in jeopardy if that bid were to gain support from the rest of the company’s shareholders.

The parallels between the CEOs of Chesapeake and SandRidge are far clearer than is necessary to infer bad faith at the SandRidge. The two men who worked together, run similar companies, and were involved in extraordinarily similar dodgy financial dealings, have angered the people that own the firms they work for, though it may sometimes seem to be the other way around.

One of the most generalized accusations is that men like McClendon and Ward forget that they work for their shareholders, and owe their performance, and compensation, to them. The way Ward seems to have used SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD) makes it seem more like a private company, and one run with few scruples.

There may be little in the way of criminal charges to bring against Ward. SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD) says it complied by the necessary regulations. Probably the most important indicator of Ward’s future is the current legal position of Aubrey McClendon. He is currently unencumbered.

The deals at both companies were complex, and that makes proving wrongdoing difficult. If a case is pursued, it is more likely to end up in a nominally punishing fine, rather than a personal punishment against Ward. The real ability to punish lies with the shareholders, and judging by the Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) precedent, there may not be much they can do either.

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