The 15 Best Values in Energy

Study after study has shown that stocks with low price-to-earnings multiples significantly outperform high P/E stocks. Research from my favorite investing guru, NYU professor Aswath Damodaran, pegged the outperformance at anywhere from 9% to 12% per year, depending on the study period. That's big money we're talking about.

But you already know that you can't just go out and buy the stocks with the lowest multiples. Companies can trade at dirt cheap prices for a number of dire reasons, including low growth prospects, skepticism about earnings, or high risk of bankruptcy.

These dangerous stocks can quickly crater. Buy too many of them, and you'll increase your own risk of bankruptcy!

Thus, for a firm to be truly undervalued, Damodaran says in his book Investment Fables: "You need to get a mismatch: a low price-to-earnings ratio without the stigma of high risk or poor growth."

Of course, you're unlikely to find any high-growth, low-P/E companies out there. But Damodaran suggests setting a reasonable minimum threshold for earnings growth, such as 5%. There are also various ways to minimize risk, including staying away from volatile stocks or companies with dangerous balance sheets.

The screen's the thing
We're looking for companies with low price-to-earnings multiples, but also a relatively low amount of risk, and the potential for reasonable growth. Our screen today will cover the best value plays in the energy sector, as defined by my Capital IQ screening software.

There are 234 energy companies with market caps topping $500 million on major U.S. exchanges. They have an average forward P/E of 26.9. Here are my parameters:

  1. In order to stay away from bankruptcy risk, I used Damodaran's suggestion, and only considered companies with total debt less than 60% of capital.
  2. In hopes of capturing a reasonable amount of growth, I looked at Capital IQ's long-term estimates, and kept only companies expected to grow EPS at 5% annually or better over the next five years. Furthermore, I required at least 5% annualized growth over the past five years.

Of the 44 companies passing the screen, here are the 15 with the lowest forward price-to-earnings multiples:

Company

Market Cap (in millions)

Forward P/E

Debt-to-Capital

Estimated EPS
Growth

Transocean (NYSE: RIG  )

$14,784

6.1

35%

16%

Atwood Oceanics (NYSE: ATW  )

$1,752

6.5

17%

10%

Alliance Resource Partners
(Nasdaq: ARLP  )

$1,918

7.9

53%

10%

Noble (NYSE: NE  )

$8,315

7.9

9%

16%

Chevron (NYSE: CVX  )

$153,079

8.0

10%

14%

Diamond Offshore Drilling
(NYSE: DO  )

$8,271

8.3

29%

21%

Rowan Companies (NYSE: RDC  )

$2,890

10.1

21%

18%

Bristow Group (NYSE: BRS  )

$1,201

10.4

35%

6%

Hess (NYSE: HES  )

$17,596

11.2

23%

9%

Murphy Oil (NYSE: MUR  )

$10,484

11.6

14%

14%

Ensco (NYSE: ESV  )

$5,979

11.6

4%

7%

Newfield Exploration (NYSE: NFX  )

$7,143

11.7

41%

7%

TETRA Technologies (NYSE: TTI  )

$789

12.1

35%

16%

World Fuel Services (NYSE: INT  )

$1,547

12.3

2%

10%

Southern Union (NYSE: SUG  )

$2,809

12.3

59%

10%

Data provided by Capital IQ.

There are lots of good research candidates here -- I expanded the list to 15 to help you find more companies you might be interested in. To further stack the odds on your side, Damodaran says you can eliminate any companies that have restated earnings, or had more than two large restructuring charges over the past five years. And if volatile swings in price cause you to lose sleep, consider only companies with betas less than 1.

What about companies in different sectors? I'll be running more screens over the coming days, so be sure to check back in this space!

Fool analyst Rex Moore is full of energy, but owns no companies mentioned in this article. Atwood Oceanics is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. Alliance Resource Partners LP and Chevron are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. The Fool owns shares of Bristow Group Ensco, and Noble. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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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 August 02, 2010, at 7:00 PM, goalie37 wrote:

    Thank you for the research. If you are looking for other sectors, healthcare would probably come up with some interesting companies.

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