ConocoPhillips: Traveling Lighter and Faster

Analyzing ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) , now the largest of the U.S.-based independent producers, is somewhat akin to peering at HGTV. In the latter, you're bound to encounter a house that's seen better days and is being torn asunder, en route to new eye-popping splendor.

Similarly, the company continues to undergo a makeover, and while the final results may also be eye-popping, they may not be. It's still too early to tell. But it's worth sticking around for the rest of the program to see what eventually materializes.

Discarding downstream
As you know, a year ago Conoco spun off its refining, chemical, and pipeline assets to form Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX  ) . The new company has treated its shareholders well, chalking up gains of more than 80% during the past year, and 17% year to date. Of course, ConocoPhillips isn't the only formerly integrated company to have shed its downstream operations. Nearly a year earlier, Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO  ) formed Marathon Petroleum (NYSE: MPC  ) through a similar spinoff. That step resulted in another new company that's up more than 95% during the past year and nearly 30% year to date.

But ConocoPhillips hasn't stopped with dumping the downstream. Since the beginning of 2012, it has announced about $12 billion in asset sales. That's more than the $10 billion that the company had targeted when last year began. Hence the reason for the under-construction metaphor. Recent sales have involved the company's businesses in Algeria and Nigeria, along with its assets in the huge Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea.

Early in the quarter Conoco announced the sale of its Cedar Creek Anticline properties to Denbury Resources (NYSE: DNR  ) for slightly more than $1 billion. The smaller company is likely to make more of those assets, given its success in and predilection for enhanced oil recovery.

Estimates precisely met
Meanwhile, aside from the jettisoning of significant assets, Conoco continues to function as an active -- and potentially quite solid -- oil and gas producer. In the most recent quarter, its operations yielded earnings adjusted for items of $1.8 billion, or $1.42 per share, compared with $1.8 billion, or $1.38 per share for the first quarter of 2012. Analysts who follow the company had anticipated an adjusted per-share number precisely in line with the actual results.

Overall production for the quarter came to 1.596 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, 1.55 MMbpd of which was tied to continuing operations. The comparable figure for the same quarter of 2012 was 1.58 MMbpd.

Crude price realizations slid 5.3% year over year to $105.57 per barrel. Conversely, realized natural gas prices rose 4% to $5.84 per Mcf.

Still solid operations
In the U.S. onshore, the company's key areas of activity were the Eagle Ford, the Permian Basin, and the Bakken plays. Production from those active venues popped up 42% year over year. Continuing on the continent, Canadian production was up 6% year over year, while Alaska's contribution was nearly 8% lower, primarily as a result of normal field decline.

ConocoPhillips continues to ramp up its activity in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. The quarter produced two promising discoveries in that active body of water, the Shenandoah and the Coronado wells. Conoco was high bidder on 30 blocks in the March Gulf central area sale. The results are expected to include the addition of about 172,000 acres to its Gulf repertoire.

Internationally, aside from the aforementioned major asset sales, the company is active. For instance, it's announced an agreement with PetroChina to farm out a 20% interest in the Browse Basin and a 29% interest in the Canning Basin, both in Western Australia. The two companies will also conduct a joint study of unconventional resource development in the Neijiang-Dazu block in the Sichuan Basin.

A Foolish takeaway
As one who is involved in a successful dieting project, I realize only too well that ConocoPhillips management may very well be correct in the assumption that a leaner company today may lead to a stronger one tomorrow. On that basis alone, ConocoPhillips appears to deserve careful Foolish monitoring.

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