Feb 23 (Reuters) - Shares in U.S. natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corp fell on Thursday after posting a smaller fourth-quarter loss than a year earlier, when it took huge charges to write down the value of some oil and gas assets.
Results were hurt by lower volumes, weaker prices and losses on hedging, and shares in Chesapeake were down more than 7 percent around 1:00 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) at $5.49. It said expects to reverse volume declines, adjusted for divestitures, in the second half of the year.
In a note, Barclays analysts wrote the company's fourth quarter results were largely in line with expectations, but described Chesapeake's 2017 production forecasts as "a bit more pessimistic" than rivals.
Chief Executive Doug Lawler said on a conference call, "We will be working to accelerate our stated debt reduction target of $2 billion to $3 billion over the next few years through additional asset sales." Next year, the company expects to be cashflow neutral, balancing cash received from operations with capital expenditures.
Chesapeake said production averaged about 574,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) in the quarter, down 13.1 percent from a year earlier.
Chesapeake, like its peers, has been selling assets to lower its crippling debt load after a two-year rout in oil prices depleted its cash balances.
The company narrowed its 2017 capital budget last week, but maintained its production target of 532,000-562,000 boepd.
The company's net loss available to shareholders narrowed to $741 million, or 84 cents per share, in the three months to Dec. 31, from $2.23 billion, or $3.36 per share, a year earlier.
The latest figures included $395 million in unrealized hedging losses on oil and natural gas derivatives and a $428 million loss on the exchange of preferred stock. The year-ago quarter included charges of about $2.83 billion, mainly for asset impairment.
Excluding items, the company earned 7 cents per share, in line with the average analysts' estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Chesapeake's total revenue fell nearly 24 percent to $2.02 billion in the latest quarter, narrowly missing analysts' average estimate of $2.08 billion.
(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru and Gary McWilliams in Houston; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alden Bentley)
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