UBS Has Prepared a Syrian Conflict Guide to Oil and Gas Stocks

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With the increasing likelihood of a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria, the oil markets have become volatile. Brent prices rose to as high as $117 a barrel last week. The price strength also might be attributed to ongoing supply disruptions in Libya. The energy strategy team at UBS believes that if military action is taken in Syria, it will be short-lived, and that Libya outages are temporary. Barring escalation of the Syrian conflict to other regions in the Middle East, they expect no prolonged effects in the oil markets.

In a special report for investors, UBS has highlighted top names to buy that can either benefit from the current situation, or at the very least will be affected less than some of the other major firms. Here are the stocks to buy now, broken out by sector with analysis.

Integrated Major Oils

The UBS team expects the large integrated oil companies to benefit from the increase in oil pricing, even if it is temporary. Their concern would be for those with operations in and around the Middle East and Russia, should the conflict spread.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX), in addition to benefiting from Syria-related higher oil prices, announced last week that it will make large investments in Argentina’s shale oil and gas fields. The UBS price target for the stock is $125. The Thomson/First Call estimate is at $135. Investors are paid a solid 3.3% dividend.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) is very levered to oil pricing and should see a large benefit from the increase in oil pricing. The stock also has sold off significantly from the late July highs and may provide a solid entry point for investors. The UBS price target for the stock is $91. The consensus estimate is pegged at $95.50. Investors are paid a 2.9% dividend.

Exploration and Production Companies (E&Ps)

While UBS analysts expects E&P names may be the most volatile, they also may have the most upside potential of the energy names. The E&Ps earnings are more sensitive to changes in commodity prices than the majors, due to their smaller, more concentrated production activities. UBS says to focus on oil levered E&Ps that do not have operations in at-risk areas such as the Middle East, North Africa and Russia.

Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE: DVN) is one of the top names to buy with operations based in North America. The company holds interests in various properties located in Rocky Mountains, Mid-Continent, Permian Basin and Gulf Coast regions of the United States. It also owns oil and gas properties in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan provinces of Canada. The UBS price target for the stock is $60, and the consensus is at $71.50. Investors receive a 1.5% dividend.

EOG Resources Inc. (NYSE: EOG) also has substantial operations in North America. The company made news last week when a fire erupted at one of its wells in the Eagle Ford. The fire is under control and operations are returning to normal. The price target at UBS for the stock is $175, while the consensus target is $177. Investors are paid a small 0.5% dividend.

Whiting Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: WLL) just acquired more than 17,000 net acres of land in the oil-rich Bakken Shale for $260 million. Net oil and gas production from the properties is estimated to average 2,420 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day last month. Whiting estimates proved reserves at 17.1 million BOE with 85% of reserves being oil. The UBS price objective for the stock is $55, and the consensus stands at $62.

Oil Services

While not directly exposed to rising and falling crude prices, this group tends to be volatile when oil prices are volatile. UBS would hold names in this group through the period, as the analysts believe the intermediate-term outlook for the subsector is good. They would buy the names in the group on any dip.

Baker Hughes Inc. (NYSE: BHI) supplies oilfield services, products, technology and systems to the oil and natural gas industry worldwide. It offers drilling and evaluation products and services, including drill bits for performance drilling, hole enlargement and coring, as well as conventional and rotary steerable systems used to drill wells. UBS has a $54 price target, and the consensus is at $54 as well. Shareholders are paid a 1.3% dividend.

Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL) is one of the names we highlighted that stands to benefit from the opening of the doors in Mexico to outside energy companies. Oilfield services companies have bright long-term prospects in Mexico due to the oil reforms and the pipeline of large integrated projects. UBS has a $55 price target on this top name, the same as the consensus target.

Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB) revenue grew 8% year-over-year to $11.18 billion in the second quarter of 2013, fueled by high growth in its international segment. While the company does generate 11% of revenue in the Middle East and Asia, only a prolonged Syrian conflict is expected to dent their strong results. UBS has a $98 price target and the consensus figure is at $96. Stockholders are paid a 1.5% dividend.

Refining and Refiners

UBS feels that the refiners are at a disadvantage as oil prices rise and better off when prices fall. Refiners could underperform as oil prices rise, as margins will be squeezed by the rise in feedstock costs, and they could outperform after the peak in oil prices as margins widen out again. The analysts are somewhat positive on Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) and Marathon Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: MPC). They would focus on the other stocks mentioned.

Middle East turmoil is nothing new in the geopolitical spectrum. What all analysts and strategists worry about is a spread of the conflict that ends up involving other nations. With ongoing political unrest in Egypt, and the Syrian situation most likely coming to a head sooner rather than later, investors need to keep a close eye on the headlines and the situation. Any big sell-off may offer an excellent entry point to these top energy stocks.

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