Energy Business

Why Analysts Are Changing Tune on Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips

The three largest U.S. oil and gas companies have now reported fourth-quarter earnings, and the results were about what most observers expected with one mildly positive surprise. Every one reported realized prices per barrel of oil equivalent fell and production rose.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), the world’s largest publicly held oil company, saw profits drop by half year over year in 2015. The company did manage to post a profit in the fourth quarter, something neither Chevron nor ConocoPhillips was able to do. But capital spending was down 19% year over year in 2015 and is forecast to fall another 25% in 2016. But the company is widely believed to be big enough to withstand the low-price shock better than its peers.

Here’s a sample of what analysts had to say after last Tuesday’s earnings:

  • Credit Suisse raised its price target from $68 to $73 but kept an Underperform rating.
  • Goldman Sachs lowered its price target from $86 to $85 but kept Exxon on its Conviction Buy list.
  • Tudor Pickering said that Exxon will turn to acquisitions of some sort in the coming days.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) posted a smaller than expected net loss of $0.31 per share. The company cut its operating expenses and capex by $9 billion in 2015 to $34 billion and expects capital spending to total $25 to $28 billion in 2016. Domestic liquids production rose 8% in 2015. Among the analyst reviews we saw, these two stand out:

  • S&P Cut Chevron’s debt rating from AA to AA- and maintained a Stable outlook.
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch reiterated its Neutral rating and $100 price objective.

ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) posted a net loss of $0.90 a share and took the drastic step of cutting its dividend by two-thirds, from $0.74 to $0.25. Both Exxon and Chevron avoided that. While production rose 5% year over year in 2015, production is expected to be flat in 2016. That is reflected in how analysts viewed the company:

  • Credit Suisse cut its price target from $45 to $41.
  • Goldman Sachs cut its target price from $41 to $38 and kept a Neutral rating on the stock.
  • Jefferies cut its price target to $37 from $45 and rates the stock a Hold.
  • RBC cut its price target from $61 to $50 with an Outperform rating.

Exxon shares closed up about 0.3% on Friday, at $80.08 in a 52-week range of $66.55 to $93.45. The stock’s consensus price target is $79.86, although the latest changes may not yet be included in the calculation. The company’s dividend yield is 3.91% ($2.92 annually).

Chevron stock closed down 2.25% on Friday, at $82.88 in a 52-week range of $69.58 to $112.93. The consensus price target is $93.86, and again the latest changes may not be figured in yet. The company’s dividend yield is 5.27% ($4.28 annually).

Conoco shares closed down about 6.9% on Friday, at $32.90 in a 52-week range of $31.59 to $70.11, and the low was posted on Friday. The consensus price target is $45.82, according to MarketWatch. At the new annual dividend level of $1.00 per share, the dividend yield on the stock at Friday’s closing price is 3.04%.