There are few companies as difficult to get one's arms around these days as ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) , once the third largest of the U.S.-based integrated companies and now the major domo of the independent producers' set. Whatever its ranking, however, Conoco will be the first of the sizable oil and gas producers to report its results for the most recent quarter when it takes center stage on Thursday.
As you probably know, Conoco has been undergoing as thoroughgoing a revamping during the past couple of years as any house you've watched being transformed on HGTV. After exhibiting an excessive acquisitions appetite during the early days of the past decade, the company radically reversed course a few years ago. As such, it has spun off its downstream operations to form the now completely separate Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX ) . At the same time, it's been steadily unloading upstream assets.
All over the map
One result clearly is confusion among the analysts who follow Conoco regarding the company's attractiveness. Of the 15 Wall Streeters willing to place ratings on it, ConocoPhillips is the recipient of six "buy" imprimaturs, five "hold" ratings, and four "sell" judgments. So at this juncture, the only clear categorization of the Houston-based company is that it remains a work in progress.
At this juncture, the consensus about the company's Thursday prospects involves an expectation that its earnings will come in somewhere in the vicinity of $1.17 per share, which would represent about a 54% reduction from actual results from the comparable quarter a year ago. I'll quickly add, however, that with "for sale" signs continuing to grace a host of its assets, it becomes almost impossible for even the most astute analyst to peg results closely. For that reason, last quarter's revenue expectations were a rather absurd 67% below the company's reported number.
Among the items likely to be discussed in the company's earnings release and its call is the sale to Russia's Lukoil during the quarter of Conoco 30% interest in NaryanMarNefteGas. The sale of the Russian asset will result in an after-tax financial gain of approximately $400 million for Conoco. Beyond that, don't be surprised if you learn about other new property sales at the company.
The company has also decided not to pursue additional exploration efforts in Peru's Blocks 123 and 129. In addition, it will opt out of the next exploration period in that area. When that decision was communicated earlier this month, Larry Archibald, senior vice president for exploration at ConocoPhillips, noted that "After careful consideration, we reached this decision as part of the company's broader strategic effort to reevaluate our investments and asset portfolio since becoming an independent E&P company."
On the other side of the world, the company announced during the quarter that development of a second 4.5 million tonnes per annum production train has been sanctioned for its liquefied natural gas project in Queensland, Australia. Assuming that all goes according to plan, exports from the train are likely to begin in early 2016.
More immediately, ConocoPhillips -- along with Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) , the second largest of the U.S. based integrated companies -- is showing signs of ramping up its unconvetional exploration commitment in Poland. While ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) has at least temporarily thrown in the towel in the country, after drilling two disappointing wells, Conoco has moved a lead engineer from Texas' Eagle Ford Shale to Poland, where he will become the lead engineer for activities in the area. In addition, the company has leased enough office space in Warsaw to facilitate the city's functioning as the headquarters for unconventional drilling and production activities in Europe.
While it's now a completely separate company, it's worthwhile to note that Phillips 66, which was spun off to Chevron shareholders on May 1, has become of a star of the downstream set. The company is expected to report quarterly earnings of about $2.14 a share on the last day of October. That estimate represents an increase in the consensus of about 14% in just the past 30 days. The company operates 15 refineries with an aggregate capacity of 2.2 million barrels per day. It also has 10,000 branded marketing outlets and 15,000 miles of pipelines.
Returning to Chevron, there remain far too many moving parts to the company for me to feel comfortable recommending purchase of its shares by Foolish investors. While we're waiting for the dust to settle, however, I believe that an optimum way to keep abreast of the company's rapid changes is by adding it to My Watchlist.