Scott D. Sheffield
Chief Executive Officer at Pioneer Natural Resources
Good morning. Thank you, Neil. Good morning, everyone. Starting on slide number 3, pioneer delivered a great fourth quarter, closing out a strong year, in which we generated a record 3.2 billion of free cash flow, and returned 1.9 billion back to the shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. With a material base dividend increase of greater than 25%, this quarter's base plus variable dividend a $3.78 will be paid in March. This dividend payment represents approximately a 7% yield on annualized basis and an 8% yield, would you include the additional $0.62 base dividend paid in the first week of January. We have now merged our quarterly base in variable dividend components into the one dividend payment or one check to ensure that third-party data providers properly represent our dividend yield and reflect our return of capital, I want to thank FactSet and Bloomberg in working with us. FactSet will look in the past, the past four quarters, and Bloomberg will take the current dividend yield, which will show about 7% going forward. And that's how we'll do it.
So we're getting recognized now with our variable dividend. Additionally, due to our unhedged position and strong commodity prices, our second quarter variable dividend is poised to increase by greater than 60% from the first quarter, payable in the second quarter and will equate to about 11% yield. When taken into account, fourth quarter share repurchases of $250 million in dividend payments of approximately $875 million [Phonetic], we returned greater than a 100% of our fourth quarter free cash flow to shareholders. In addition to our fourth quarter repurchases, our Board has authorized a new $4 billion share repurchase program, replacing our previous authorization, which provides increased capacity through purchase of significant amount of stock. These record results were driven by high-quality asset base, which generated 17% return on capital employed in '21, we expect this to increase this year to the mid '20s at current strip prices at mid '20s, around 25% return on capital employed.
Going to slide number 4. Again, solid execution drives strong fourth quarter results continued during the fourth quarter as both oil production and total production in the upper half of our guidance, when adjusting for the volume sold with the Delaware divestiture. And you can see it in the boxes that we showed two numbers, one with Delaware until the end of the year, one without the last 11 days. As I've mentioned on the prior slide, this production supported another quarter of strong cash flow, resulting in record free cash flow of $3.2 billion in 2021. Our Midland horizontal LOE remained low at $2.68, and peer leading, during the quarter, and $2.46 for the year. Looking forward, we expect to make a very low leverage profile approximately 0.2 net debt to EBITDA at year-end 2022. Essentially, we had the best balance sheet in the company's 25-year history.
Going to slide number 5. Committed a significant return of capital, we remain committed to our core investment thesis underpinned by low leverage, strong corporate returns at a low reinvestment rate which generate significant free cash flow. Majority of this free cash flow was returned to shareholders in the form of base plus variable dividends with total shareholder return through dividends, representing almost 80% of our free cash flow. At current strip prices, total dividends are expected to exceed $20 per share in '22, representing approximately 3 times increase from 2021. We will continue to maintain a pristine balance sheet and supplement our compelling base plus variable dividend framework with opportunistic share repurchases, under our new $4 billion share repurchase authorization. Our free cash flow over the next five years, at the five-year strip is over 28 billion. In addition, we've run our model out through life of inventory. Our free cash flow over the life of our assets, until the last well is drilled, and the last well is produced, it's well over $200 billion at long-term strip pricing.
Going to slide number 6. Best-in-class cash returns to shareholders. Obviously, with the high base plus variable, we are at the highest percent of returning cash back to the shareholders. Our investment framework returns the highest percentage of free cash flow to investors through dividends when compared to any one of our peers or majors. This cash is directly returned to the investor. We have seen a tremendous benefit attracting dividend value funds over the last several quarters and have also seen a significant change among the culture of our employees, who all own the stock and always are looking forward to that dividend check.
Slide number 7, compelling dividend yield amongst the peers. As a function of our strong free cash flow generation, the high percentage return to shareholders, our dividend yield exceeds all peers, majors and the average yield of the S&P 500 based on current share price. This top tier yield demonstrates the cash flow power and the underlying quality of Pioneer's assets and strength of our peer-leading return of capital strategy. Again, we had 7% first quarter, when you exclude the return, the extra-base dividend, which would bring it up to 8 for the first quarter, and that's increasing to approximately 11% next quarter.
Slide number 8, in comparison to that same yield versus all industries and the S&P 500. When looking beyond our peer group, Pioneer's expected yield off far surpasses every S&P 500 sector. In fact, based on strip pricing, Pioneer's yield, 2022 yield is more than 6 times, the average of the S&P 500 almost 2.5 times, the average of the oil majors. With a strong dividend yield, share repurchases and modest growth, from the investor's perspective, the case for owning Pioneer stock is compelling.
Going to slide number 9, return of capital framework. We believe a strong and growing base dividend is a commitment to our shareholders and a key pillar of our investment thesis. As I mentioned earlier, we have further strengthened our base dividend with an increase of greater than 25% from last quarter's increase. This increase is predicated on our balance sheet strength and durability of our cash flow across commodity price cycles. This is the second-straight quarterly base dividend increase and represents 40% base dividend growth since the third quarter of 2021. And going forward, we will continue to increase the base significantly. Inclusive of the increase, our six-year base dividend compound annual growth rate of greater than 80% exceeds all peers in the US majors.
Further augmenting our strong shareholder returns, our Board of Directors has approved a new $4 billion share repurchase authorization. This new authorization excludes the impact of the 250 million already purchased in the fourth quarter under the prior authorization. We will continue to buy shares on a quarterly basis. Our long-term objective is to reduce share count. We have one of the best balance sheets in the industry to repurchase a significant amount of stock opportunistically.
Going to slide number 10, dividends through the cycle. Pioneer's, this is a chart, a lot of people have asked us in regard to the dividend funds and also the retail sector as we continue to get on calls promoting more to the retail sector. Pioneer's high-quality assets, low breakeven of around $30, capital discipline provides the ability of return, significant free cash flow through commodity price cycles. As I've mentioned, it's well over 200 billion at strip prices long-term. As seen on the graph, Pioneer shareholders have significant upside to higher oil prices, as we have zero, 2022 all hedges and going forward. With dividends greater than $24 per share, and oil prices above 90. Additionally, dividends will remain resilient at lower oil prices providing material sustainable return of capital and lower commodity prices. Also, generates a significant amount of free cash flow, but at current strip prices generates a mid '20s, return on capital employed in 2022.
I'll now turn it over to Rich.