What to Expect from Chevron in 2014 and Beyond

Recently, the large integrated oil majors have come under strong pressure from shareholders to reduce capital spending and return cash to investors through dividends and share buybacks. Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) appears to have heeded the advice, recently announcing plans to reduce capital spending next year by about $2 billion.

Let's take a closer look at where the company plans to invest its money and some of the key drivers of its growth in 2014 and beyond.

Where Chevron will spend its money next year
The San Ramon, Calif.-based oil giant recently announced a 2014 capital budget of $39.8 billion, down $2.2 billion from this year's expected spending of $42 billion. However, the 2013 capital budget included $4 billion in resource acquisitions that Chevron hadn't originally anticipated, so from this perspective next year's spending will technically be about $2 billion higher.

The largest portion of Chevron's 2014 capital budget – roughly $35.8 billion, or 90% -- will be directed toward upstream oil and gas exploration and production projects. Some of the company's most important upstream investments include ventures in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, Texas' Permian Basin, Australia, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Angola, and the Republic of the Congo.

Chevron also plans to spend roughly $3.2 billion on global exploration projects, including appraisal of new acreage acquired in the past two years in Australia, Morocco, and the Kurdistan region of Iraq, as well as exploration and appraisal efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, and several global shale gas prospects.

Chevron will also invest in chemicals projects through CPChem, a 50/50 joint venture with Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX  ) that is one of the world's leading producers of olefins and polyolefins, including construction of an ethane cracker and two polyethylene facilities along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The company has also allotted a relatively small portion of its capital budget – roughly $3.1 billion, or 8% -- to be invested in its downstream business, mainly to improve reliability and efficiency and feedstock flexibility, and to develop cleaner-burning transportation fuels. Lastly, the company has budgeted about $1 billion for technology, power generation, and other corporate activities.

Key drivers of near-term growth
Chevron has a staggering array of global oil and gas projects to drive growth over the next few years. In addition to near-term growth from projects that started up this year, including Angola LNG, Papa-Terra in Brazil, and the Escravos gas-to-liquids plant, or EGTL, in Nigeria, the company should see a big boost from the start-up of three major Gulf of Mexico projects next year, which will provide a 150,000 barrel-per-day boost to the company's net production when operating at full capacity.

In 2015 and beyond, two of the company's biggest drivers of growth should be ventures in Australia; the $54 billion Gorgon LNG project on Barrow Island and the $29 billion Wheatstone LNG project off the continent's western coast. Gorgon, which is owned and operated by Chevron, with a 47% stake, as well as ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) and Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) , which each hold 25% stakes, is slated to begin production in mid-2015, while Wheatstone's first production is expected in 2016.

When operating at full capacity, Gorgon and Wheatstone will add a combined 400,000 barrels per day of net production, which should allow Chevron to maintain its production growth lead over its peers. Importantly, the company has already secured long-term sales and purchase agreements for its production from these two projects, having inked a firm 20-year agreement with Tohoku Electric Power in October to supply gas from Wheatstone.

While these projects do face some risks, such as additional cost overruns and delays, they could prove incredibly beneficial over the long run. That's because LNG projects tend to produce at flat levels for extremely long periods of time, generating high and stable revenue and cash flows for decades, while requiring little reinvestment once they go into service.

Years of growth on the horizon
With three major projects in the Gulf of Mexico -- Jack/St Malo, Big Foot, and Tubular Bells -- slated to come online next year, and Gorgon and Wheatstone expected to begin producing by mid-2015 and 2016, respectively, Chevron appears well positioned to meet its production target of 3.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day by 2017, up from about 2.6 million currently. As long as it can avoid further cost overruns and delays at these projects, Chevron should continue delivering peer-leading growth over the next few years, which bodes well for both its stock price and the sustainability of its attractive dividend.

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