Since becoming an independent exploration and production company, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) is a much more focused company than its integrated peers. ConocoPhillips spun off its downstream and midstream business, Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX), and is now an exclusive exploration and production pure-play. This has allowed ConocoPhillips to focus on its growing its core upstream operations successfully. Meanwhile, integrated majors like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) juggle all of its different businesses at once, with tepid results.
ConocoPhillips' operational excellence stood in stark contrast to ExxonMobil's production woes last year. Going forward, continued investment in the most promising regions of North America place it in prime position to reach its stated production goals.
ConocoPhillips thrives while integrated majors suffer
ConocoPhillips generated slightly more than $7 billion in adjusted profit last year, up 5% from the prior year. Management attributes its success to the fact that the company met its production goals in 2013.
By contrast, ExxonMobil's earnings per share collapsed 24% last year, due primarily to lower production as well as an awful downstream performance. Margins between domestic crude and the international benchmark remain significantly compressed, which puts huge pressure on downstream profitability. ExxonMobil's downstream segment posted a massive 74% drop in earnings last year.
To be sure, Phillips 66 saw many of the same difficult conditions, but notably survived the poor climate much better than ExxonMobil's downstream unit. This is why Phillips 66 saw its own earnings drop by just 7% last year, but again this performance is much better than the overall performance of integrated majors like ExxonMobil. Phillips 66 grew earnings in its midstream, chemicals, and specialties segments, meaning it was able to keep profits relatively afloat despite notable weakness in its refining unit.
Gearing up in the U.S.
ConocoPhillips saw much better upstream results than ExxonMobil last year. Consider that ConocoPhillips managed to grow its overall oil and gas production to slightly more than 1.5 million barrels of oil equivalents per day last year, excluding impacts from supply disruptions in Libya and asset dispositions. For its part, ExxonMobil's oil and gas production after stripping out divestments remained flat in 2013.
ConocoPhillips' production in its lower 48 states and Latin America segment led the way last year, thanks mostly to the deep-water Gulf of Mexico, as well as onshore plays including the Bakken, Eagle Ford, and Permian Basin. Overall gas and liquids production increased 5% the fourth quarter.
ConocoPhillips' U.S. growth set to continue
Going forward, ConocoPhillips management is confident the company is on track to reach its previously stated goal of 1.6 million barrels of oil equivalents per day in 2014. This would represent nearly 7% production growth year over year. This is due in large part to the company's ambitious growth strategy in the United States. ConocoPhillips' 2014 capital budget calls for $16.7 billion in spending on continuing operations, 55% of which will be devoted to projects in North America. Of these, ConocoPhillips is wisely focusing on four key areas: Onshore shale plays including Bakken, Eagle Ford, and the Permian Basin, and continued development in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico.
Digging into ConocoPhillips' capital budget more deeply reveals how committed to North America the company really is. Approximately 39% of the company's capital budget is allocated to development drilling programs, a full 90% of which will be in North America. Growth from these programs should result in 600,000 barrels of oil equivalents per day of production by 2017.
Expect 2014 to be another solid year
ConocoPhillips is a pure-play exploration and production company, which allows for its results to be much cleaner than those from integrated majors like ExxonMobil. This operational focus served ConocoPhillips extremely well last year, and continued production growth means 2014 is likely to be another year of rising profits.
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