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Energy lenders not facing new '80s-style 'bloodbath': CEO

Ripple effect of oil's slide: CFR CEO
Ripple effect of oil's slide: CFR CEO

The current oil price environment is totally different than the "bloodbath" of the 1980s oil glut, Dick Evans, chairman and CEO of Cullen/Frost Bankers, told CNBC on Tuesday.

The San Antonio-based bank has seen its shares slip about 10 percent over the last month as U.S. crude oil prices have plummeted more than 40 percent from their highs in June. A little more than 14 percent of the bank's loans are tied up in the energy industry.

Plunging oil prices have raised concerns that regional banks that lend to energy firms could face pressure as some of those loans go into default. The energy sector accounts for 17.4 percent of the high-yield debt market, according to Citi Research.

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Evans said investors have focused primarily on oil prices, but they must consider the duration of the price decline, as well. He acknowledged that Cullen/Frost's customers are reviewing their capital expenditure budgets for next year, but said the industry has access to better technology than it did during the 1980s price downturn.

Energy firms also stand to offset declining oil prices with revenue from natural gas as the cold snap sets in, Evans said. He further noted that many companies have hedged for lower oil prices through 2015 and part of 2016.

"If you're hedged ... you're going to be able to adjust your cost of your operation, your drilling. The main thing it does is give you time to adjust your business model," said Evans.

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Trader and CNBC contributor Karen Finerman said she has shorted Cullen/Frost not just on concerns about its loans to energy firms, but on the importance of oil prices to the broader Texas economy.

Evans refuted that assessment, citing Dallas Federal Reserve data that indicate only 2.6 percent of the 345,000 jobs Texas created in the first 10 months of the year were in the energy industry.

"This isn't a bunch of cowboys riding on horses around oil and gas wells; this is a very sophisticated state that has good diversification."