Barclays Thinks Total Is a Totally Decent Pick

While Fools should generally take the opinion of Wall Street with a grain of salt, it's not a bad idea to take a closer look at particularly stock-shaking upgrades and downgrades -- just in case their reasoning behind the call makes sense.

What: Shares of French oil and gas giant Total (NYSE: TOT  ) climbed 2% today after Barclays upgraded the stock to Equal Weight from Underweight.

So what: Total's capital expenditures have weighed heavily on cash flow recently, but the company managed to convince Barclays at its Capital Markets Day that it will be able to control spending much better than expected. So in Barclays' eyes, that improved visibility on capex and cash flow, combined with its positive operational momentum of late, makes Total a decent bet to at least match the market over the next year.

Now what: I'd expect the stock to remain strong in the short run. "There remain challenges to delivering the 2017 operating cash flow aspiration, as evidenced by an implicit reduction in prior cash flow assumptions over the 2015-2017 period," explained analyst Lydia Rainforth, "but the coming 12 months should see Total show both improved production and cash flow with the start-up of a number of key projects scheduled." Of course, when you couple Total's red-hot stock price -- now up more than 25% from its 52-week low -- with the long-term headwinds Barclays mentions, I'd wait for a wider margin of safety before making a multi-year commitment.

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