The biggest story during the collapse on Wall Street was, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has swept across the world with lightning speed. Running neck and neck was black swan number two, the battle that erupted between Russia and Saudi Arabia over oil production. That had cut the benchmark pricing for West Texas Intermediate and Brent crudes by a stunning 65% as of Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia possesses around 18% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum. The oil and gas industries account for about 50% of gross domestic product and about 70% of export earnings. Clearly Brent under $30 a barrel is not what the leaders want long term. So, a prolonged fight seems very unlikely.
With prices likely to lift, perhaps in the near term, savvy investors know that there is value in the sector. The big question is where. The answer is simple: stay with the industry giants. We screened the Merrill Lynch energy research universe and three of the biggest players in the world are all rated Buy, and with good reason. The Merrill Lynch team said this in a recent report:
Energy isn’t just facing recessionary demand; it’s facing a supply crisis engineered by Saudi’s decision to maximize output in a direct replay of the 1998 playbook. Spot prices already breach cash costs for many US & International producers and below incremental shale economics. Playing this out, E&P business models are broken in isolation & ripe for consolidation as a necessary outcome is that industry needs to lower costs. Playing this out markets will eventually rebalance; but we are increasingly aware that with so much damage being inflicted on the industry, the ‘next’ Black Swan may well be the risk of a deal that puts production cuts back on the table from Russia, OPEC and possibly the US.
The mega-cap behemoths have the diversification in products, and the ability to slash capital expenditures to fight the incredible drop in pricing. They are really the only way to play the collapse in the sector now as many of the smaller companies, especially those in the shale plays, could be in big trouble.
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.
Chevron, which is among the companies with the largest corporate debt, this week became the latest major oil company to slash spending after halting its $5 billion-a-year share buyback and halving spending in the Permian Basin, which means a large decrease in projected output from America’s biggest shale region.
The California-based oil giant said on Tuesday that it would lower projected 2020 capital spending by 20%, or $4 billion. The Permian will account for the largest single element of that reduction, translating into 125,000 fewer barrels of oil equivalent per day than previously forecast, a quantity equal to about 2.5% of the basin’s total current production.
Shareholders receive a hefty 7.27% dividend, which the analysts feel comfortable will remain at current levels. The Merrill Lynch price target for the shares is a surprising $70, while the consensus target across Wall Street is a much higher $100.14. The last Chevron stock trade was reported at $69.27 a share, up just over 4% on Wednesday.