Merrill Lynch Has 4 Top Oil Stocks for 2018 With Oil at 2-Year Highs

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West Texas Intermediate crude closed the day on Friday at $58.97 a barrel, which was the highest price in two years. Despite the dramatic 100% plus move off the lows posted in January of 2016, there is still a large swath of portfolio managers and analysts on Wall Street that remain either neutral or actually underweight the sector. With the potential for an OPEC continuation of the current production costs that are in place this week, it makes sense to look at adding some of the top stocks now.

We screened the Merrill Lynch energy research data looking for top companies that were rated Buy and had the biggest upside potential to the Merrill Lynch price targets. Four companies look like outstanding picks for investors with growth accounts to add now.

Anadarko Petroleum

This top stock is still down a stunning 30% since January and is an outstanding Buy at current levels. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: APC) operates through three segments. The Oil and Gas Exploration and Production segment explores for and produces natural gas, oil, condensate, and natural gas liquids (NGLs). The other segments are Midstream and Marketing.

The company reported third-quarter numbers that missed on what they said was another round of exploration charges related to prior period write offs. However, EBITDA did beat consensus estimates. Compounding the messy quarter, the company lowered its fourth-quarter production guidance, citing some storm impact, but predominantly asset sales.

Looking past the current issues, momentum from focused oil growth into 2018 remains intact, with stock buybacks set to accelerate in this quarter, which should push the shares higher. The Jefferies analysts forecast Anadarko generating aggregate free cash flow of $2.1 billion in 2018 to 2019.

Shareholders are paid a small 0.4% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a huge $80 price target on the shares. The Wall Street consensus target is $61.89, and the shares closed Friday at $48.11.


This company may offer investors solid upside potential and could start growing the dividends again. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) explores for, produces, transports, and markets crude oil, bitumen, natural gas, LNG and NGLs worldwide.

Conoco’s portfolio includes resource-rich North American tight oil and oil sands assets; lower-risk legacy assets in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia; various international developments; and an inventory of conventional and unconventional exploration prospects. Many Wall Street analysts feel the company can accelerate growth from a reloaded portfolio depth in the Bakken and Eagle Ford, and with visibility on future growth from a sizable position in the Permian.

The company reported much improved third-quarter 2017 earnings. Conoco has redefined its investment case with the highest free cash leverage to a recovery in oil prices among the big oil plays. Management has addressed key questions around portfolio resilience, and share buybacks have been prioritized over growth.

Conoco investors are paid a 2.1% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target on the stock is $63, and the posted consensus target is lower at $57.05. Conoco shares closed Friday’s trading at $50.47 apiece.


This stock is still down almost 30% from highs printed last January, and but it remains a top large cap oil services pick at Merrill Lynch. Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL) is one of the world’s largest providers of products and services to the energy industry. It serves the upstream oil and gas industry throughout the life cycle of the reservoir, from locating hydrocarbons and managing geological data to drilling and formation evaluation, well construction and completion, and optimizing production through the life of the field.

Halliburton is the second-largest provider of oil services and the number one player in pressure pumping services worldwide. For investors looking for an oilfield services company to add, this is arguably the best, and analysts feel it will be a huge benefactor as the frac market has tightened significantly and prices are 20% to 30% off the lows.

The company posted solid third-quarter results that topped analysts’ estimates, driven by better pricing and increased activity in North America, its biggest market. Revenue from North America surged 91% to $3.16 billion in the three months ended September 30, due to a “strengthening of market conditions” in the region. Total revenue rose 42% to $5.44 billion. Net profit attributable to Halliburton rose to $365 million in the quarter from $6 million a year earlier.

Halliburton shareholders are paid a 1.73% dividend. Note that the $50 Merrill Lynch price target is less than the consensus estimate of $52.88. The shares closed Friday at $41.58.

Pioneer Natural Resources

Many Wall Street analysts love this stock for a pure crude oil play. (NYSE: PXD) operates a modern fleet of more than 24 top performing drilling rigs throughout onshore oil and gas producing regions of the United States and Colombia. Pioneer production services are supported by 100 well-servicing rigs, more than 100 cased-hole, open-hole and offshore wireline units, and a range of advanced coiled tubing units.

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. With a stellar balance sheet, the company is poised to remain a top player in the Permian as it expects to deliver solid production growth in 2018 and beyond.

Pioneer has continued to pursue a comprehensive Midland Basin infrastructure plan to accompany development, including water, tank batteries/saltwater disposal, sand and gas processing. These investments have helped lower the company’s direct cash operating costs with ongoing efficiency gains offering further opportunities for compression.

Pioneer investors are paid a tiny 0.05% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is $200 and the consensus price figure is set at $187.49. Shares closed Friday at $154.10.

These four top energy companies to own for 2018 all have big upside potential to the Merrill Lynch price targets. They make good additions to portfolios that need to initiate or add energy exposure.