Energy Business

Merrill Lynch Raises Price Targets on Top Energy Stocks Rated Buy

Despite the lack of a production freeze agreement in the Doha meeting, and the end of the oil workers strike in Kuwait, oil prices are still hanging around the $40 mark for benchmark West Texas Intermediate. Plus, there are numerous anecdotal signs that perhaps prices can press to the upper $40s or even the $50 level by the end of the year or early 2017. One thing is for sure, Wall Street is taking notice and acting accordingly.

In a new research note, Merrill Lynch sees the potential and raises its price targets on some of the top stocks in its energy research coverage universe. We found four that make good sense for investors looking to add energy companies to portfolios now.

ConocoPhillips

This stock may offer investors solid upside potential despite the big dividend cut earlier this year. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) is the world’s largest independent exploration and production company, based on production and proved reserves. Headquartered in Houston, ConocoPhillips had operations and activities in 21 countries, $30 billion in annual revenue, $97.5 billion of total assets and approximately 15,900 employees as of the end of 2015. Production averaged 1,589 thousand barrels of oil equivalents in 2015, and proved reserves were 8.2 billion barrels of oil equivalents as of last December 31.

Many Wall Street analysts feel Conoco can accelerate growth from a reloaded portfolio depth in the Bakken and Eagle Ford, with visibility on future growth from a sizable position in the Permian. The company remains the one of the best values as short sellers circled after the dividend cut as many growth and income managers sold shares.

Conoco investors receive a 2.15 % dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target on the stock was raised by a dollar to $71. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is much lower at $45.52, and the stock ended Wednesday above that at $47.08.


Continental Resources

This company has a very large exposure to crude oil. Continental Resources Inc. (NYSE: CLR) is a top 10 independent oil producer in the United States and is the largest leaseholder and one of the largest producers in the nation’s premier oil field, the Bakken play of North Dakota and Montana. The company also has significant positions in Oklahoma, including its SCOOP Woodford and SCOOP Springer discoveries and the Northwest Cana play.

Continental was one of the companies that Goldman Sachs thought could be able to thrive even with oil at the $35 level. Should it push towards $50, it seems that the upside could be dramatic for the stock.

The Merrill Lynch price target went to $44 from $38, compared to the consensus target of $33.48. The stock closed most recently at $38, up 3.6% on the day.

Devon Energy

This company is expected to have a substantial portion of its total 2016 production in natural gas. Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE: DVN) an independent energy company, primarily engages in the exploration, development and production of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids (NGLs) in the United States and Canada. It operates approximately 19,000 wells. It also offers midstream energy services, including gathering, transmission, processing, fractionation and marketing to producers of natural gas, NGLs, crude oil and condensates through its natural gas pipelines, plants and treatment facilities.

Devon’s extensive and very diversified portfolio is primarily composed of unconventional resources and reflects significant long-term growth potential. Consistent investments made by the company over time are helping it to sustain its strong performance despite like many energy giants, having to lower exploration and production budgets for 2016.

Devon investors are paid a 0.7% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is raised to $50 from $47. The consensus target is $32.88, and share closed Wednesday above that level at $34.74 after rising 3.36% for the day.

Exxon Mobil

This remains one of Merrill Lynch’s top ten picks for 2016. Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) is another energy sector play that the Merrill Lynch analysts are very positive on long-term, as the overall corporate strength of the massive integrated giant plays a significant part in the company’s usually solid earnings reporting pattern and in maintaining dividend coverage.

The company’s global downstream chemical segment plays a huge part for Exxon. It may be a part that many on Wall Street don’t fully appreciate as the segment contributes an estimated 16% of overall total revenue. Some very solid reasons for adding the stock to a long-term growth portfolio are that the company has consistently demonstrated disciplined investing, operational excellence and technological innovation.

Exxon investors receive a sizable 3.36% dividend. Merrill Lynch raised the target price to $96 from $95. The consensus price objective is $80.52. Shares closed on Wednesday at $86.60.

These top stocks make good sense for accounts looking to increase exposure to energy. While supply and demand are still rebalancing, patient investors should do well adding these companies.