An oil and gas driller is leading the S&P 500 after launching a $2 billion buyback program

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Employees wait for the arrival of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, not pictured, at a Diamondback Energy oil rig in Midland, Texas, April 17, 2019.

Callaghan O’Hare | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Shares of Diamondback Energy surged nearly 10%, leading the S&P 500 stock index, after the U.S. oil and gas driller reported strong first-quarter earnings and announced a $2 billion stock buyback program.

The stock was last up 9.8% above $107 per share, on pace for its best day since Nov. 30, 2016.

Diamondback drills exclusively in the Permian Basin, the engine of the U.S. shale oil boom. The company reported solid results as a bidding war between Chevron and Occidental Petroleum for another Permian player, Anadarko Petroleum, has investors speculating about more dealmaking in the basin.

Diamondback was one of the biggest energy sector gainers immediately after Chevron announced its $33 billion deal to buy Anadarko last month, suggesting investors see the company as a valuable candidate for a merger or acquisition.

After the bell on Monday, Diamondback reported that its oil and natural gas production more than doubled from a year ago to 263 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. The company achieved that feat while spending far less than analysts expected, said Paul Sankey, lead oil analyst at Mizuho Securities.

Diamondback also said its board has given the driller the green light to buy back as much as $2 billion in company stock through 2020. The buyback program addresses calls by investors for shale drillers like Diamondback to start generating more value for shareholders.

“The consistent growth of the dividend remains the primary return of capital objective, but the repurchase program represents the next step in the total return strategy and the company’s evolution to large-cap Permian pure play,” Sankey said in a research note on Monday.

Diamondback also disclosed that it sold $322 million worth of acreage in the Permian, divesting some of the assets it acquired when it purchased fellow driller Energen last year.

“The grow and prune strategy is in effect at [Diamondback] and will help supplement the cash return strategy,” Sankey said.

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