Why the Safest Place to Be Now Is Large Cap Oil Stocks

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If you are experiencing a degree of whiplash from the market volatility, you are not alone, as 500- to 700-point intraday moves are happening with nerve-wracking regularity. However, escaping to the Treasury market isn’t an answer as yields actually have fallen recently. And while gold is good, a weighting of more than 10% in any portfolio is more than sufficient. One place to turn is the energy patch, and with good reason.

Currently, oil remains above the $60 level, and we are almost into the busy summer driving season. Toss in the fact that OPEC production cuts have remained in place, and the United States is poised to become the top oil-producing country in the world, and there is a good argument to own the biggest oil stocks. They are relative safe havens, pay big dividends, are very liquid and remain way oversold.

We screened the Merrill Lynch energy research universe looking for large cap companies rated Buy and found four that look like solid additions now.

Chevron

This integrated giant is a safe way for investors looking to stay or get long the energy sector, and it has a 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. Some on Wall Street estimate that the company will have a compound annual growth rate of over 5% for the next five years.

The company’s production from the Permian Basin continues to exceed trajectory, and it provided investors with a reasonable bullish update at the March 6 investors day. The Merrill Lynch team noted this after the presentation:

With Permian production and asset disposals targets reset, we believe the company can raise the dividend 20% and buyback 15% of shares. We view the strategy update as appropriately conservative for one of the more oil levered majors. The Chevron strategy thru 2020 is focused on discipline enabled by step change in capital efficiency driven by doubling Permian production.

Chevron shareholders are paid an outstanding 3.9% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $138, and the Wall Street consensus target is $135.88. The shares were trading early Monday at $115.30 apiece.

ConocoPhillips

This company may offer investors solid upside potential and could start growing the dividend again. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) explores for, produces, transports and markets crude oil, bitumen, natural gas, liquefied natural gas and natural gas liquids (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 Merrill Lynch team have grown progressively more positive on the shares and noted this in a recent report:

Based on updated cash flow sensitivities we suggest operating operating cash flow could top $11 billion at $64 Brent, drawing more buybacks. With advantaged leverage to Brent and little production sharing contracts entitlement effects, we view Conoco as a strong free cash ‘yield’ name.

Conoco investors are paid a 1.92% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $72 price target on the shares, and the consensus target is lower at $66.67. The stock traded at $59.90 a share Monday morning.

Exxon Mobil

This stock is down almost 20% since early February and is the preferred pick at Merrill Lynch. 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.

The company 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 are paid a nifty 4.11% dividend. The $100 Merrill Lynch price objective compares with the much lower consensus target price of $85.98. The stock was last seen trading at $75.05 per share.

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, liquefied natural gas 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 are paid a huge 4.86% dividend. The Merrill Lynch has set its price objective at $74. The consensus figure is $77.94, and the stock was trading at $66.30.

Shares of these four mega-cap companies still offer value and potential upside, and they have come down dramatically in price over the past few months. Add in the long-time consistent dividends payouts, and all four stocks make sense for growth accounts looking for energy exposure but with a larger degree of safety.