Energy Business

UBS Sees 4 Large-Cap Energy Stocks as Possible Acquisition Targets

For most of the past year, the price of oil stayed handily over the $100 mark. Recently, and much to the delight of motorists and consumers here at home, prices have fallen rather drastically. The market has been dominated by political risk, most recently in Iraq and Ukraine, but clearly continuing issues across the Middle East and Africa. While this temporarily benefits oil prices, it can change investment theses and strategy.

A new report from the energy research team at UBS points out that despite a shortfall in growth and the cheapest borrowing rates for at least a generation, there has been little merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in the energy sector. The UBS analysts feel that a focus on incremental returns may lead to less exploration and more deals as resource prices on the market have fallen.

The UBS analysts list four large-cap exploration and production stocks that they feel could be tantalizing acquisition targets. The buyer would most likely have to be a very deep-pocketed integrated, as all four of the companies sport very large market caps.

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Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: APC) kicks of the list of possible M&A targets at UBS. The company is one of the biggest independent oil and gas producers in the country, with exploration or production work in all major domestic drilling areas as well as in South America, Africa, Asia and New Zealand. Worldwide, natural gas makes up just over half of Anadarko’s reserves, but 87% of the new wells it drilled in the United States last year were gas wells. The company has daily production over 2.6 billion cubic feet.

Investors are paid a 1% dividend. UBS has a $127 price target on Anadarko. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is set at $124.93. Anadarko closed Friday at $109.87 a share.

EOG Resources Inc. (NYSE: EOG) is another top stock to buy at UBS that looks like a potential takeover candidate. The company is fueling record oil and natural gas production that is revolutionizing the U.S. energy position. Its position in the three biggest tight oil plays makes it a huge player in the exploration and production field. EOG is the top producer in the Eagle Ford Shale and it has solid positions in both the Bakken and Permian Basin, making it a perfect fit for an integrated looking to expand in those areas.

EOG investors are paid a tiny 0.6% dividend. UBS has a $130 price target. The consensus target is $124.42. The stock closed Friday at $105.18.

Marathon Oil Corp. (NYSE: MRO) is another top energy stock that makes the UBS list. The company informed investors in the spring that it planned to divest assets in Angola and the North Sea and use the proceeds to accelerate the development of onshore liquids-rich resources in the United States. The company is a leading integrated oil and gas firm with extensive upstream operations. Marathons business is organized into three segments: North America Exploration and Production, International Exploration and Production, and Oil Sands Mining.

Investors are paid a 2.1% dividend. The UBS price objective for Marathon Oil is $48, and the consensus target is set at $45.62. Shares ended Friday at $40.91.

Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (NYSE: PXD) is a huge player in the Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford in Texas, and it has been a big winner for shareholders. The company was also one of the firms named by the U.S. Department of Commerce to produce and export condensate. Rumors have swirled for some time that one of the big integrated companies may target Pioneer as a takeover candidate. It would be a very expensive deal as the company’s market cap is almost $29 billion.

UBS has a huge $260 price target for the stock, and the consensus target is $240.38. Pioneer shares closed Friday trading at $202.11.

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All four of these top stocks to buy deliver attractive cash flow and volume growth at reasonable valuations, which the UBS team believes makes each of them a legitimate potential M&A target as well. The one caveat again is whoever may be looking to buy had better be ready to write a big check, because none of these companies will come cheap.

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