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Chevron's (NYSE: CVX ) performance during the past few quarters has been poor to say the least. The company's earnings have slumped, and fiscal fourth quarter results revealed a 31% year-on-year drop in income and a 7% slump in revenues.
However, even though Chevron has underperformed during the past few quarters, the company's underlying business is still outperforming that of its peers on many levels, even industry leader ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) . In particular, Chevron's adjusted earnings per barrel of oil are in the region of $17, more than 40% above that of its nearest peer, ConocoPhillips. Exxon manages around $11 in adjusted earnings per barrel.
Chevron's high adjusted earnings figure is in part thanks to the company's low upstream costs, which have averaged around $30 per barrel for the four years to 2012, data for 2013 is not available. In comparison, the average upstream cost per barrel of oil for Chevron's competitors for the same period has been upwards of $40.
Good things come to those who wait
Still, investors are right to express concern about Chevron's performance, but for those who are patient, it would appear as if good things are just around the corner. Indeed, there has been much talk about Chevron's growth through 2017 as the company has a number of huge projects coming online during the next few years. These include the Gorgon and Wheatstone liquefied natural gas developments in Australia, and the Jack/St Malo, Big Foot, and Tubular Bells deepwater oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico. In total, these projects will add 500,000 barrels per day to Chevron's existing production.
Nevertheless, data on growth after 2017 is hard to find, although Chevron's management did shed some light on the issue within a presentation given at the 19th annual Credit Suisse Energy Summit. Through the end of the decade, Chevron has 10 planned projects worth over $1 billion commencing construction/production within North America, and a further 13 smaller projects are also under consideration. Projects within North American slated for start-up after 2017 include the, Kitimat LNG project and the Hebron heavy oil project off the east coast of Canada, estimated to contain 400 to 700 million barrels of recoverable oil. In addition, Chevron has plans to develop the Mad Dog II and Stampede oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico.
Peers are not so active
Chevron is pushing hard to increase its production, but peers Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-B ) don't seem to be targeting such rapid growth. In particular, Shell is concentrating more on selling assets to pay for its rising capital spending rather than driving growth.
Sadly, this is exactly the opposite strategy that Shell should be pursuing, as the company has really underperformed on a production basis during the past few years. While the company's capital spending has risen from an annual $27 billion during 2007 to $44.3 billion for 2013, the company's profits have fallen, and so have returns and free cash flow. What's more, Shell's management is currently undershooting expectations, as they stated back during 2012 that the group will generate $200 billion of operating cash flow in the four years through 2016. So far, the company has only managed $40 billion -- it needs to improve this if it wants to meet its target.
Elsewhere, Exxon, which saw its production tick down by 1.8% during 2013, has mostly missed the U.S. shale oil boom, thanks in part to the company's conservative approach to exploration, favoring multi-billion dollar projects on field that are likely to produce for decades to come.
Chevron has underperformed during the past year, but I feel that investors have been too quick to punish the company.
Chevron has numerous high-volume and, indeed, high-value growth projects slated to come online before the end of the decade, and the company should see a significant boost from this growth. In addition, Chevron is one of the industry's most efficient oil companies with the highest adjusted earnings per barrel of oil and lowest costs. As a result, it looks as if, for those who are prepared to wait, good things could be on the horizon.
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