Follow Jason on Twitter.
"But even with millin' and dammin'
Our needs are so much more demanding
For energy ... We have to use some kind of fuel."
-- "The Energy Blues"
With that said
Truer words have never been spoken (or sung, for that matter). The old Schoolhouse Rock tune hits the nail on the head: We need fuel. And while Halliburton (NYSE: HAL ) may not be the poster child for headline darlings, it's still a phenomenal operator with a tremendous scope of applications for the oil and natural gas industries.
As E&Ps continue their search for fuel, Halliburton is there to provide everything from production and completion services (well casing and flow-control equipment, for example) to drilling and evaluation services (drill bits, reservoir testing, and even data management). And it's a major player. In fact, Halliburton is the largest provider of fracking services in the world.
What makes them so special?
Management is keying in on three primary growth drivers:
Unconventional markets: A list of countries including Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Mexico, and even Poland are beginning their own fracking operations and opening up more international opportunity for Halliburton. Further, Halliburton's "Frac of the Future" project geared toward improving the process and its efficiencies will roll out on a global scale in the coming years. In fact the company realized a 10% reduction in crew size in 2011 and has been engaged by its international customers to screen more than 150 basins and completed 60 in-depth studies, with plenty more on the way.
Deepwater: Deepwater drilling was hit big time with the spill in the Gulf. But this activity is coming back all around the world, and that means more work for Halliburton. Take driller Atwood Oceanics (NYSE: ATW ) , for example. It's investing $3.3 billion through 2014 to bring eight new rigs online and expects ultra-deepwater rig demand to "increase dramatically through 2016," with tight utilization meaning better dayrates. And the world's largest offshore driller, Seadrill (NYSE: SDRL ) , sees much more of the same. The expected net overall increase in rig count in 2012 will help Halliburton offset any weakness from declining natural gas rigs, but right now the market doesn't seem to be buying it.
Mature fields: There are approximately 1.5 million oil and natural gas wells out in the world today, and around 100,000 new wells are drilled each year. These wells demand maintenance in some capacity within every three to five years, and this line of work is straight up Halliburton's alley. The 2010 acquisition of mature-field redeveloper Boots and Coots (I just had to work that name in) is a great example of Halliburton's ability to effectively assess and bring outside capabilities under its umbrella. CFO Mark McCollum summed it up: "And it is not sexy. It is not pretty. People don't necessarily like to talk about it. But it is very, very profitable over time."
Of course, there's reason to not like these guys
Still much is unknown in regard to Halliburton's ultimate liability in regard to the Macondo spill in the Gulf. At this point, most of the liability has fallen on BP's (NYSE: BP ) shoulders, and let's not forget that Transocean (NYSE: RIG ) is also involved. A recent court judgment in favor of Halliburton has helped at least somewhat. I'm not saying it's all resolved, not by a long shot. But one thing is for certain: You don't invest in oil and natural gas without taking on these inherent risks of disaster and geopolitical events, and I do believe that this is one of the big reasons the stock is undervalued today.
Did you say undervalued?
I like that Halliburton spreads itself around oil and natural gas; it's not too exposed to any one particular resource. The stock today trades for about 10.5 times trailing earnings and an EV/EBITDA multiple of 5.5, indicating low expectations, at least for the short term.
Estimates are that Halliburton will grow revenue this year by about 17%, with earnings growth of around 25%. I attribute part of the market's pessimism to margin concerns as Halliburton relocates crews to the liquid plays that their customers are exploring. The other part I attribute to the nebulous and ongoing litigation as a result of the Macondo spill, which will more than likely drag out for some time. Both valid concerns; no argument there. But they're also surmountable, and the stock price deserves a multiple more in line with the company's growth prospects. Today, I think Halliburton's stock is worth more along the lines of $55, implying a forward multiple of 14 based on the mid-range of estimates.
It's all about making money
The goal of my Motley Fool portfolio is to find stocks that make money. While Halliburton doesn't necessarily elicit dances of joy, that's OK by me. It's a major player in an essential field, and the stock presents a value today that I think will pay off for years to come, so I'm buying $1,000 worth of shares to get the position started. To be clear, this is a long-term bet on energy, and I expect some volatility. But I think the market's pessimism today is giving us a good price to take a chance. Make sure to drop me a Tweet and let me know what you think.
Halliburton is a great way to invest in the energy space, but there is one top energy stock our analysts like better. You can read about "The Only Energy Stock You'll Ever Need" by getting a free copy of our special report. Enjoy, and Fool on!