Clayton Williams: Use Other People's Money, And Wisely

"...Generally I've had a debt load of around $500 million-and it's not much if you say it quick."

"At 80 years old, I'm really glad to be here," Clayton Williams, founder, chairman, president and chief executive of Clayton Williams Energy Inc. (Nasdaq: CWEI), told some of the more than 1,600 registered attendees at the IPAA's 18th annual OGIS New York investment symposium last week.

The legendary Permian Basin wildcatter joined Mel Riggs, executive vice president and chief operating officer, in presenting the Midland, Texas-based company's financials and outlook, providing some current color to the U.S. oil and gas field, which he calls "the most fun business I can imagine."

The business begins with an idea, he said, and then geologic work, some seismic shoots, leasing, drilling a well, and "you create wealth for a lot of people...that didn't exist until it started in your mind."

During his career, he adds, "many times, you wouldn't have recognized me. Back when oil was (a remarkable at the time) $40 in the old days, I was 6 foot 4; by the time it got down to $9," not so tall, he quipped.

And, it's important to use other people's money, OPM, and to do it wisely. "I never had enough cash flow to do what I thought needed to be done, so generally I've had a debt load of around $500 million-and it's not much if you say it quick."

A good reputation is essential. "I've borrowed money from a lot of different banks. I can tell you I could go back to all of them-but there's one or two I wouldn't go back to because they were hard on me when I was down and now they come around, kissing my...

"So I think a good reputation, paying it back, meeting your commitment of doing what you said you would do has been my trademark...(This way,) you go bed and sleep at night. I like that. So, life has been good for us."

About that cash flow and credit capacity, the "banks are still happy with us." The company has a $475-million borrowing base and has drawn $180 million. "We haven't even used up all our credit this time. I don't know what we're doing wrong," he joked.

Some more highlights:

--In Reeves County, Texas, in the Permian Basin, "holy mackerel" there are more than a dozen pay zones to tap. The company will work toward holding its 60 square miles of leases by production from vertical wells in Wolfcamp and Bone Springs, which will take two years alone, and then come back with horizontal wells. "It's an amazing thing that has happened right next door to where I live (in Midland)."

--"We have problems in the Permian with getting the oil out of the basin, there's so much production that has come on."

--The company holds a lot of acreage that has potential for renewed production via waterfloods. "They're wonderful, but sometimes they (have a) three- or four-year payout. We think our opportunity is in drilling wells today and putting (our) new acreage into HBP (held by production)...When we get bored..., we'll go into the waterfloods."

--The company is also a long-time producer from the Austin Chalk in Texas, and its acreage