Are You Watching ConocoPhillips' Radical Facelift?

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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.

Pooh-poohing Peru
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.

Perpetuating Poland
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.

Foolish conclusion
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.

David Lee Smith has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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 October 24, 2012, at 10:46 PM, blaws1 wrote:

    The last paragraph "Foolish Conclusion" says "Returning to Chevron". Is this about Chevron or ConocoPhillips? There are other errors evident that the news processing mill you guys use introduced if you look hard enough. But that last error is critical and seems to totally change the focus of the article at the end. Given the unclear nature of this article overall, and the lack of a solid final opinion other than to publicize the authors watchlist, maybe there is no point or reason to worry about being so correct and accurate in what you write. Wow....

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