Big Oil May Be Safest Bet for the Rest of 2017: 4 to Buy Now

August 22, 2017 by 247lee

While investors continue to stare at a stock market that has remained very pricey and overbought, the only stocks that seem to go higher are very expensive tech and momentum stocks. The question for most investors now is where to put new money or profits from those pricey overbought stocks. The answer from many of the pros on Wall Street is decidedly big oil, and with good reason.

While the price of West Texas intermediate has remained range bound, the mega-cap large companies may be offering investors the best level to buy shares in years. The so-called supermajors have slashed costs and capital expenditures over the years while readjusting balance sheets, and they are the most prepared for oil to remain at the $50 level.

We screened the Merrill Lynch research database and found four stocks rated Buy that all pay at least a 4% dividend.


This integrated giant is a safe 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 second quarter, and 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. Merrill Lynch analysts noted this in their report:

Permian production is running ahead of guidance with implications on reducing sustaining capital for the broader portfolio. Major project starts, led by Gorgon continue to drive an inflection in free-cash-flow with the cash break-even trending below $50 by 2018.

Chevron shareholders receive a 4.08% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $120, and the Wall Street consensus price objective is $116.62. The shares closed on Monday at $105.78.


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 some messy second-quarter results, and Merrill Lynch feels the stock is still an outstanding place for investors to put money now. The team also cites the ability of the company to maintain and cover the cash dividend at lower oil prices as a key positive, and a recent report said this:

Management could do a better job of highlighting unusual items; on review the second quarter met consensus in contrast with a perceived miss. Analysis of operating cash flow suggests Exxon had a second quarter cash break-even of $35 although capex is running 33% below guidance. With $2 billion of free cash in the second quarter before working capital, the company remains a low risk strategic route to reweighting energy portfolios.

Shareholders receive a 4.03% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $90 price objective, while the consensus is target is just $83.03. The stock closed Monday at $76.38.

Occidental Petroleum

This top company has one of the highest yielding domestic stocks in the energy sector. Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: OXY) is an oil-levered multinational organization with principal business segments in oil and gas and in chemicals. The oil and gas segment explores for, develops, produces and markets crude oil and natural gas, primarily in the U.S. Permian Basin, Colombia, Bolivia, Libya, Oman, Qatar and Yemen. The chemicals segment manufactures and markets basic chemicals, vinyls and performance chemicals.

With a rock-solid balance sheet and a commitment to dividend coverage, investors look safe for now. Occidental has paid quarterly cash dividends continuously since 1975, and it has increased its dividend each year since 2002. The company reported solid earnings and recently raised the dividend. The analysts said this in a recent report:

Occidentals recent dividend increase is a small but significant signal of management’s commitment to its dividend growth strategy. The dividend is covered by cash flow bricks. Permian growth currently funded by asset sales, looks self-funding by end 2018. At $50 oil, the company grows at 5% and fully covers a current 5% yield – the highest of the US oils, with room for growth post 2018.

The company recently reported strong second-quarter results and may be among the best plays for growth and income investors.

Shareholders receive a 5.23% dividend. The $70 Merrill Lynch price target compares with a consensus target of $65.13. The stock closed on Monday at $58.84.

Royal Dutch Shell

This company has survived the plunge in oil pricing as good as or better than any other major integrated stock. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE: RDS-A) operates as an independent oil and gas company worldwide through its Upstream and Downstream segments. The company explores for and extracts crude oil, natural gas and NGLs.

Royal Dutch Shell also converts natural gas to liquids to provide fuels and other products; markets and trades crude oil and natural gas; transports oil; liquefies and transports gas; extracts bitumen from mined oil sands and converts it to synthetic crude oil; and generates electricity from wind energy.

The company generated 3.83 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas in the second quarter of this year from its integrated gas operations and another 6.40 billion cubic feet per day from its upstream operations. The company posted solid results and the analysts noted this:

Shell has organically covered the total cost of its dividend at $50 barrel over the last month – underlying Free-cash-flow accretion from the BG Group plc takeover last year. With gearing down from 29% to 25% in the first half of 2017 already, the company remains on track to see gearing drop below 20% next year.

Investors receive a 5.88% dividend. Merrill Lynch has set its price objective at $62, near the posted consensus target of $62.85. The stock closed Monday at $54.32.

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These four top companies are solid total return plays for long-term growth and income investors, and they make among the best sense for investors looking to stay in the equity markets but worried about a potential market correction in the fall.