Jefferies Says Buy Land Drillers Now in Huge Contrarian Call

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Top exploration and production companies have been hit hard over the past month as West Texas Intermediate crude, which hit $72.35 in late May, has drifted back to $64.93. Fears of OPEC and Russia moving in to replace lost production from Iran and Venezuela have helped shove the price down. Toss that threat in with the problems of capacity issues in the Permian Basin, and it has been extra bad for the top oil service land drillers.

In a new research report, Jefferies makes the bold contrarian call of advising clients and investors to take advantage of price drops in some of the top land drillers and buy shares now. While not discounting the current issues, the firm feels long-term investors can benefit and explained why in the report:

With Permian differentials at $8-10/ per barrel, and new pipeline capacity coming (albeit only in the second half of 2019), we recognize the risk that operators might trim Permian activity. The behavior of Privates (35% of the Permian rig count) is most in question—channel checks suggest that at least one has begun retrenching. Yet earnings risk is likely modest (<10% to second half 2018 EBITDA for Drillers), and we see recent weakness in Land Driller shares as a buying opportunity.

Four of these stocks are rated Buy at Jefferies, and all make sense for more aggressive growth accounts looking for a contrarian energy play.

Helmerich & Payne

This large cap sector leader is the safe and more conservative play, and it was just raised to a Buy rating at Jefferies. Helmerich & Payne Inc. (NYSE: HP) is the largest U.S. land driller and provides onshore drilling services primarily in the United States. It also offers land rigs internationally, as well as offshore platform rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The company provides drilling rigs, equipment, personnel and camps on a contract basis to explore for and develop oil and gas from onshore areas and fixed platforms, tension-leg platforms, and spars in offshore areas. Its contract drilling business operates through three reportable segments: U.S. Land, Offshore and International Land.

The analyst cite the 13% price drop over the past month as unwarranted, and this could be the best play for more conservative accounts that like the contrarian call.

Helmerich & Payne investors are paid a very big 4.43% dividend. The Jefferies price target for the shares was raised to $80 from $72, and the Wall Street consensus price objective is set at $68. The stock closed Tuesday’s trading at $64.04 a share.

Nabors Industries

This company provides drilling and rig services, and some feel it could be a takeover target. Nabors Industries Ltd (NYSE: NBR) owns and operates the largest land-based drilling rig fleet in the world, and it is a leading provider of offshore platform workover and drilling rigs in the United States and select international markets. Revenues in 2016 were $2.23 billion.

Nabors markets approximately 400 rigs for land-based drilling operations in the United States, Canada and approximately 20 other countries worldwide, as well as 41 rigs for offshore drilling operations in the United States and internationally.

The share price is down over 50% in the past year, which reflects investor focus on its balance sheet and ability to generate free cash flow and pay down debt. This concern has been exacerbated recently by a softer-than-expected earnings report and focus on 2018 non-cash deferred revenues. While most don’t see a quick fix for the company, the worst surely looks to be over.

Nabors investors are paid a 3.80% dividend, though that could be lowered going forward. Jefferies has a price target of $10, while the posted consensus price objective is at $9.76. Shares closed well below those levels on Tuesday at $6.31 apiece.