Natural gas producer Gulfport Energy taps debt restructuring adviser -sources

March 18 (Reuters) - Natural gas explorer and producer Gulfport Energy Corp has hired an investment bank to help it tackle its roughly $2 billion debt pile following a collapse in energy prices, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The move makes Gulfport the latest energy company to seek debt restructuring advice amid an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and the coronavirus pandemic. Reuters reported on Monday that shale pioneer Chesapeake Energy Corp also tapped debt restructuring bankers and lawyers.

Gulfport has retained Perella Weinberg Partners LP, and its energy advisory arm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co, to help study options to improve its finances, four sources familiar with the matter said, adding no debt restructuring move is imminent.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential deliberations. A spokesman for Gulfport did not immediately respond to a comment request. A spokeswoman for Perella Weinberg Partners declined to comment.

Gulfport Energy had been grappling with low gas prices and a board challenge from activist investor Firefly Value Partners before energy stocks cratered this month. The Oklahoma City-based company has lost four-fifths of its market value since the start of the year, and now has a market capitalization of $90 million.

With operations in the Utica shale of Ohio and the SCOOP play of Oklahoma, Gulfport had already cut its planned capital expenditures this year by 50%, as it sought to reduce costs and drill less while gas prices remain low.

Gulfport had about $2 billion of total debt and around $643 million of available liquidity at the end of 2019, according to a February investor presentation. The company’s profits last year were wiped out by a $2 billion impairment charge.

A Gulfport bond maturing in 2023 is trading around 33 cents on the dollar with a presumptive yield of 52.5%, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, indicating investors see the company in financial distress. (Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli, David French, Mike Spector and Joshua Franklin in New York Editing by Chris Reese)