As we are now in the final two months of 2017, one sector that is looking forward to the new year is energy, and with good reason. For much of the year, energy has underperformed the S&P 500, and that is a tough pill for investors to swallow as double-digit gains for the major averages are being printed. But with the price of oil finally appearing to be breaking out, and the possibility for continued production cuts for the OPEC nations a possibility, the outlook for 2018 is considerably brighter.
One solid strategy for investors looking to add energy to their portfolios is to stick with the big boys. They all pay solid, dependable dividends, and most cut back their capital expenditures when oil plunged in 2016 and are lean and mean as prices have rebounded. We screened the Merrill Lynch energy research universe for mega-cap integrated stocks that are rated Buy, and we found four that even conservative investors can still own now.
This integrated giant is a safer 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 third 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.
Chevron shareholders receive a 3.73% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is $125, and the Wall Street consensus target is $122.89. The shares traded early Friday at $115.20.
This remains a top Wall Street energy pick and is still down over 15% in 2017. Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) is the world’s largest international integrated oil and gas company. It explores for and produces crude oil and natural gas in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Africa and elsewhere. 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.
For 75 years in a row, Exxon has raised its dividend on a split-adjusted basis. Thanks to the company’s vertically integrated model in the oil and gas business, its profitability doesn’t suffer through commodity price swings like a company that’s a pure play in one segment of the value chain.
Shareholders receive a 3.69% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $90 price objective. The consensus target of $83.93 is not much higher than the $83.45 share price last seen.
This is 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 analysts noted this positive in a recent report:
Permian growth looks likely to exceed guidance over the next 3 years. Well results have moved to sector leading in key operating areas, accelerating the bridge to the chief financial officers pledge to break even to mid 2018 at $50 oil, driving a step change in free cash flow, above ‘major’ peers and underpinning a re-rating in dividend yield.
Shareholders receive a 4.54% dividend. The $70 Merrill Lynch price target was recently raised to $76. The consensus target is $65.12, and shares were trading at $67.70.
Royal Dutch Shell
This company has survived the seesaw 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. In addition, the company engages in the conversion of crude oil into a range of refined products, including gasoline, diesel, heating oil, aviation fuel, marine fuel, LNG for transport, lubricants, bitumen and sulphur; production and sale of petrochemicals for industrial customers; refining; trading and supply; pipelines and marketing; and alternative energy businesses.
Shell’s fourth consecutive quarter of dividend coverage at lower oil prices helps reaffirm the positive investment case for the company. Earnings have continued to surprise Wall Street to the upside, and analysts are bullish on the company’s cost reduction targets.
Investors receive 5.30% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price objective was raised to $69 from $67. The consensus figure is $65.66. The stock was last seen at $64.00.
These four stocks still offer value and potential upside. Add in the long-time consistent dividend payouts, and the stocks make sense for all accounts looking for energy exposure but with a degree of safety.