Needless to say, the recent energy rout has taken on multiple dimensions as the pall of lower spending and the effect on economic growth has become more clear. Breathlessly, Wall Street pundits keep moving the bottom lower, while the oil piles up in storage around the world. The bottom line is that this could be the best contrarian trade opportunity since technology crashed in 2000. In a new research report from Merrill Lynch, while they like the merits of large and small cap energy stocks, they concede that large cap is the place to buy now.
We screened the Merrill Lynch energy coverage universe for large cap stocks rated Buy at the firm. We also screened for the companies paying the highest dividends.
ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) is a large integrated name that draws a solid look at Merrill Lynch, which recently raised it a Buy rating. The company has spent the past five years divesting assets, and although the company is cash rich, it has somewhat dampened earnings and growth expectations all year long. With oil still looking to find a bottom, and the market watching Saudi Arabia’s change of leadership, analysts may feel more comfortable with the stock. The big production ability in the Eagle Ford could bode well for the future.
Conoco investors are paid a very strong 4.5% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target on the stock is $76. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is $75.34. Conoco closed Friday at $64.65 a share.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) is an energy sector behemoth that the Merrill Lynch analysts are also very positive on. Wall Street as a whole acknowledges the strength of the integrated giant played a significant part in the company’s very solid third-quarter earnings report, and they are cautiously optimistic for the fourth quarter, which will be reported on February 2. The Merrill Lynch team has stressed in the past the company’s global downstream chemical segment plays a huge part for Exxon. It may be a part that many others on Wall Street do not fully appreciate.
Exxon investors are paid a very respectable 3.0% dividend. The Merrill Lynch target for the energy giant is $101. The consensus price objective is lower at $95.52. Shares closed trading on Friday at $90.89, down over 2%.
Hess Corp. (NYSE: HES) has been has been the subject of takeover speculation in the past, and some of that chatter has reemerged recently. With a market cap falling to just over $21 billion, the company could fall prey to larger integrated as a quick bolt-on acquisition to boost growth. Hess is undergoing somewhat of a transition from an integrated oil and gas company to a predominantly exploration and production entity. Hess also recently announced the closure of its Port Reading refinery, marking its complete exit from the refining business. Its Indonesian assets were sold, and it has indicated that assets in Thailand will be on the block. More reasons the company becomes a valuable takeover asset.
Hess shareholders are paid a 1.4% dividend. Merrill Lynch keeps the price target at $95, and the consensus target is set at $82.39. Shares closed down Friday at $70.83.
Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: OXY) is a top oil stock to buy and is on the Merrill Lynch US 1 List. The company announced last year it will continue to grow dividends and expects to begin buying back more shares this year and beyond, a double plus for shareholders. The analyst points out that the company faces the oil price correction with the strongest balance sheet in the sector, with net cash at year end 2014 estimated at around $1.7 billion, and a whopping $11 per share of cash available for buy backs. With chemicals and other products helping to blunt the drop in oil, Occidental is well positioned to ride out the storm.
Occidental shareholders are paid a solid 3.75% dividend The Merrill Lynch price target for this very defensive top energy play is $105. The consensus price target is $90.66, and the stock closed Tuesday at $77.
Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (NYSE: PXD) was the ultimate shale-oil growth story for the past five years, and it has been eviscerated in the sell-off. Pioneer is a huge player in the Permian basin and the Eagle Ford in Texas, and the company owns more than 20,000 locations in the world’s second largest oil reservoir in the Midland Basin. In addition, Pioneer owns its own frac fleets, allowing it to be a low-cost, high-margin producer, which could prove to be huge with prices lower for a protracted period. Pioneer was also one of the firms named by the Commerce Department to produce and export condensate. With a big secondary in November and more asset sales on tap, the company could have balance sheet debt close to zero by the end of 2015.
Investors are paid a tiny 0.1% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is $200, and the consensus target is $174.76. Pioneer closed trading on Friday at $152.86.
With increasing third world demand, a very unstable Middle East and production levels dropping fast, the tide for oil eventually will change. Investors should scale in money to these top stocks to buy, as another leg down is always possible.
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