Between the financial crisis back in 2008 and the subsequent boom in American energy production, the landscape for energy companies has changed extremely fast. This has not only been a great time for young, upstart energy companies to grow like gangbusters, but some larger companies that under-performed have also used this opportunity to transform themselves into entirely new entities. Three comapneis, Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN ) , ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) , and Hess (NYSE: HES ) , have gone through such massive changes in the past few years, they are barely recognizable from their former selves. Let's take a look at these extreme makeovers and see if the new versions are worth a second look.
Into the WABAC Machine, to 2010
A few years ago, all three of these companies suffered from the same thing. They were all trying to keep pace with the big players in the oil and gas space, like ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A ) , by taking on high-risk, high-reward projects across the globe. Had oil prices continued on their trajectory between 2003 and 2008, when many of those investment decisions were made, then those projects would have been possible. Unfortunately for them, the financial crunch of 2008 saw oil and natural gas prices drop to below $35 a barrel and $4 per million BTU, respectively.
At these prices, none of them had the cash flows possible to keep these projects. Devon, for example, was spending 30% of its capital budget on exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, but that region only represented 11% of the company's total production. Looking at massive asset holdings with little means to finance their development, under-performing assets such as refining sectors, and disgruntled shareholders, all three of these companies have decided to undergo major transformations.
What have they done since then?
Devon, Hess, and ConocoPhillips have followed similar paths over the past few years. Their focus has been to shed large budgetary obligations like offshore and international assets and focus on drilling and exploration at home. Here's what they have each done to get there.
Hess' Major Divestments: Sold stake in the Azeri, Chirag, and Guneshli fields in the Caspian Sea for $1 billion; sold stake in North Sea assets to Shell for $525 million; sold energy marketing unit for $1 billion; sold Russian subsidiary to Lukoil for $2 billion; sold terminal network to Buckeye Partners for $850 million; sold stake in fields off coast of Indonesia for $1.3 billion; and will complete the spin-off of its gas stations this year in an IPO that could get as much as $2 billion. Total divestments: $8.6 billion
What is Hess doing with all of that cash? Over the past year, the company has paid down about $2.6 billion in long-term debt and just started a $4 billion share repurchase program. The company also is not covering its capital expenditures from cash from operations, so some of that cash will be needed to cover any capital shortfalls.
Devon's Major Divestments: Sold $7 billion worth of assets in Azerbaijan, Brazil, and the Gulf of Mexico to BP; sold additional Gulf of Mexico Assets to Apache for $1 billion; sold partial stake in several shale plays to Sinopec for $2.2 billion; sold another partial stake in shale acreage to Sumitomo for $1.4 billion; and plans to sell off its Canadian natural gas assets as well as spin off $4.8 billion of its midstream assets into a Master Limited Partnership with its merger with Crosstex Energy. Total divestments: $12.1 billion.
What is Devon doing with all of that cash? Devon has been sitting on that massive stash of cash because it was from international sales, and the repartiation taxes would have been very costly. However, the company just purchased Eagle Ford driller GeoSouthern for $6 billion. The company has also reduced its debt load over that time by $6.5 billion. It still has several billion in cash on the books, so there are lots of options left for Devon to explore.
ConocoPhillips' Major Divesetments: Sold $4.6 billion stake in Syncrude project; sold $6.4 billion stake in Lukoil; sold $2 billion wroth of pipeline assets in U.S.; sold its entire Vietnam business for $1.3 billion; spun off its downstream assets into Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX ) ; sold assets in Nigeria for $1.8 billion; sold mature oil fields in North Dakota for $1 billion; sold stake in Kashagan project for $5 billion; and sold its Algeria business unit for $1.75 billion. Total Divested: $25.6 billion; $50 billion if you include the Phillips 66 spin-off.
What is ConocoPhillips doing with all of that cash? Between 2010 and 2012, the company bought back over $20 billion in stock and trimmed its debt load by $7 billion. Like Devon, it is still flush with cash, but management has said it will keep a large cushion on the books until operational cash flow covers both capital expenditures and its pretty sizable dividend.
Are these companies worth another look?
What is actually more encouraging about these companies isn't what they divested, but what they have invested in instead. These companies have made a concerted effort to significantly grow oil production through shale assets here in the U.S. Each have significant holdings in at least one of the three major shale plays here in the U.S. -- the Bakken, Eagle Ford, and Permain. ConocoPhillips and Devon also have significant assets in Canadian oil sands, which have been performing much better recently thanks to increased takeaway capacity through rail.
The other aspect of these companies is they all trade at a discount to their peers.
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Also, companies like Devon took some major asset writedowns back in 2012 because of cheap natural gas prices. With prices now more than double those lows, several of those assets are economical again, but don't show up on the balance sheet.
What a Fool believes
Devon, ConocoPhillips, and Hess have all been on a wild turnaround over the past couple of years, and that uncertainty can be off-putting for investors. For the most part, Devon and ConocoPhillips have done much of the significant divesting, although Devon still does have some smaller assets held for sale. Hess still has plans to sell off assets in Thailand and its midstream assets in the Bakken, so there are still some big cash injections coming. Overall, though, all of these companies look to be in much better shape than they did just a few years ago, and it could be a pretty opportune time to pick up these turnaround stocks while the market hasn't caught up to them.
Three companies with brighter futures than Hess, Devon, and Conocophillips
The key for any investor is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and this is especially important in the fast-changing world of America's oil and gas boom. With so many companies to comb through, though, it could be a daunting task for any investor. Let us help you. We've put together a special report that takes a deeper look at three companies that all look to have brighter futures than Hess, Devon, and Conocophillips. To find out the names of these companies, check out our special report, "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Simply click here, and we'll give you free access to this valuable investing resource.