Energy the Only S&P 500 Sector Down in 2017: 5 Stocks to Buy Right Now

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The first half has come and gone, and it was another solid six months for stock investors. Every sector in the S&P 500 was up for the first half, with health care up 16% and technology up 14%, leading the way. One sector that definitely took it on the chin was energy, which was down 13%, and with good reason. Despite the OPEC and Russian production cuts, U.S. shale producers, particularly in the Permian Basin, continued to crank out supply.

With crude oil bouncing off the lows in the $42 a barrel range, and pushing back to $46.75 this week, that may portend more than just short covering. The rig count is dropping, and the heavy summer driving season is now in full swing. While taking big swings in energy may not be advisable, buying some of the large cap industry leaders may be.

We screened the Merrill Lynch energy research database and found four great stocks to add now rated Buy.

Chevron

This integrated giant is a safer way for investors looking to stay or get long the energy sector, and it has big Permian Basin exposure. Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) is a U.S.-based integrated oil and gas company with worldwide operations in exploration and production, refining and marketing, transportation and petrochemicals.

The company sports a sizable dividend and has a solid place in the sector when it comes to natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Some on Wall Street estimate the company will have a compound annual growth rate of over 5% for the next five years.

The company reported solid earnings for the first quarter, and the Jefferies analysts have noted that the Permian Basin remains a key source of capital flexibility, and it is a key issue behind their relative preference for Chevron versus some of the other majors.

Chevron shareholders are paid an outstanding 4.06% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target on the stock is $120, and the Wall Street consensus price objective is $121.39. The stock closed Monday at $106.30 a share.

Exxon Mobil

The world’s largest international integrated oil and gas company remains a top Wall Street energy pick. Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) explores for and produces crude oil and natural gas in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and Oceania. It also manufactures and markets commodity petrochemicals, including olefins, aromatics, polyethylene and polypropylene plastics, and specialty products, and it transports and sells crude oil, natural gas, and petroleum products.

The company posted solid first-quarter results, and Merrill Lynch recently raised the stock back to a Buy rating, as the analyst feels it is an outstanding place for investors to put money, and Exxon is the firm’s top major idea now. The analysts also cite the ability of the company to maintain and cover the cash dividend with lower oil prices as a key positive.

With gasoline prices the lowest they have been in some time, motorists are expected to hit the nation’s highways in record numbers this year for the long holiday weekend. The stock is an excellent buy for investors looking to add energy to their portfolio but leery of the recent weakness in the sector.

Exxon shareholders are paid a 3.75% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $100 price target for the shares, and the consensus target is $87.04. The stock closed most recently at $82.10 per share.