Best Stock for 2009: ExxonMobil

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We inhabit a crazy world these days, what with triple-digit flip-flops becoming commonplace for the equity markets, along with the energy rollercoaster that's been such a major part of 2008. Think about it: We began the year with crude prices near $80 a barrel and watched them climb steadily to above $145 by midsummer. And then, in just the past five months, they've plummeted to about a third of their July highs. Whoo!

Where to from here?
So as we sit with black gold having plunged to almost $40 a barrel, I'm guessing that you now have two key questions regarding energy: One, will current prices hold for at least a little while? And secondly, no matter the answer to the first question, what is your best bet to reward investors in the sector?

Not to be cantankerous, but I'll tackle your second question first: It seems to me that an optimum way to participate in energy going forward -- and you absolutely shouldn't abandon the group -- is to salt away some shares in the big enchilada of Big Oil, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) . What follows is why I feel that way, along with why I believe that, if you're looking at a timeframe beyond, say, a year or 18 months, it's very difficult to argue that crude prices won't be higher than they are today -- maybe not back to $147 a barrel, but higher.

First, OPEC just agreed to cut 2.2 million daily barrels from its total oil production -- its deepest cut ever -- in an effort to thwart the continuing downward slide of crude global. And while agreeing to chop production and actually doing so may not be one in the same for the cartel, oil's global supply and demand remain tight enough that almost any production reductions should have some effect on prices.

Big spending cuts
Beyond that, you probably know that Canada is our biggest oil supplier. But a major share of our Canadian imports comes from oil sands in Alberta, which are extremely expensive to produce. As such, a host of development projects in the area -- along with some in other parts of the world -- have been shelved for economic reasons. With crude below $50 a barrel, it's my contention that you'll see more and more projects curtailed, thereby running the risk of a growing supply-demand imbalance. Indeed, on Friday, Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI  ) reported a sharp drop in U.S. drilling activity.

And longer term, in a recent missive, ExxonMobil repeated its contention that global energy demand will ultimately have risen by 35% in the 2005-2030 period. If 2030 seems like eons away, think again. It really isn't.

But why Exxon? After all, there are other solid integrated companies that you could tie into. BP (NYSE: BP  ) , Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) come immediately to mind. Let's start with ExxonMobil's recognized technological capabilities. The company has performed well enough on Russia's remote and demanding Sakhalin Island, for instance, that it's been able to survive frequent orneriness on its host's part, something Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) wasn't able to pull off.

Cash and then some
And then there's that rock-solid balance sheet. At a time when the credit crunch is laying waste to the development efforts of former independent stars such as Chesapeake (NYSE: CHK  ) , Exxon's approximately $38 billion in cash and short-term investments -- more than triple the stash of any of the other majors -- will permit the company to maintain its active share buyback program, while potentially allowing it to pick off some attractive plays.

For my money, there are all manner of other things to like about the company, including its geographic spread and solid management. But I think you get the picture. Even if you expect crude prices to slide a little further, the timing seems ideal to begin reoiling your portfolio -- and ExxonMobil appears to be the best brand to start with.

ExxonMobil has been accorded four stars out of a possible five by Motley Fool CAPS players. I'm planning to weigh in with a thumbs-up on the company. How about you?

For related Foolishness:

Chesapeake Energy is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (26)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 18, 2008, at 5:23 PM, ricgre wrote:

    From about 1976 to1980 oil rose from 10 to 40. The retreat from about 150 to 37 is comparable. From about 1980 to 2000, oil ranged from 10 to20. We may be in for a long period of 30 to 60.

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2009, at 9:17 PM, madamebutterfly1 wrote:

    Exxon's conservative a disciplined investment strategy along with its maniachal focus on safety, efficiency, the development of proprietary technology and high ROI would make Exxon a stock-investment of choice in "regular times". Its strategy of investing only on high return projects, and using some of the excess cash to buyback its stock and increase dividend yearly, is the same successful and proven strategy used in the 80's and 90's and which also gave outstanding returns to shareholders in the first 8 years of this century.

    Imagine now in this new environment where the raising of new capital will no longer be easy as in the past for Exxon competitiors. So many of Exxon's competitors will now become cash strapped, and will need to cutback on their past aggressive investment behavior when bidding for oil leases. On the other hand, Exxon is cash rich with $38 billion in cash in its balance sheet and generating more cash than it spends in its well-thoughtout capital investment program giving ample flexibility to continue to buyback stocks and increase its dividend every year.

    Let's not forget -- it has been relatively easy for the past 20 years until the financial crisis hit like a category 5 hurricane for Exxon's smaller and not so small competitors to raise tons of capital using security-backed triple A rated corporate paper for their aggressive oil lease acquisitions strategy, often bidding head-on against Exxon, that was often left hanging out to dry because it refused to pay the outrageous sign in bonuses that thisese competitors were willing to dish out in their foolish expectation of ever increasing prices. This will be no more!!!

    I repeat -- this strategy followed by Exxon's competitors to aggressively bid for oil leases from a platform of "easy, low cost triple A rated security backed monies" will no longer be available.

    The new reality is that a great deal of Exxon competitors find themselves today strapped with some pretty high cost assets, and will not have sufficient free cash flow available to even meet its base case investment needs least of all monies to outbid the Tiger for new oil leases. So by default, Exxon will gain on average the pick of the oil lease litter at significantly lower prices than its competitors. The Tiger wins again!!!

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