Oil prices continue to creep higher in the United States. While this means pain at the pump for consumers, it also means a gold rush for publicly traded oil and gas companies engaged in exploration and production. A few of the independent upstream majors, including Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), and Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), are winning big from rising oil prices, since their profits are highly sensitive to fluctuations in the price of oil.
Crude oil recently touched $102 per barrel, which should serve as a solid tailwind for each of these three companies over the next couple of quarters. And, if oil prices stay supportive throughout the year, then 2014 could shape up to be a fantastic year for Occidental Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, and Marathon Oil.
High oil prices pay big rewards
It goes without saying that high oil prices are a pain for consumers. At the same time, oil companies stand to do very well. That's particularly true for Occidental, Conoco, and Marathon, because they kept production growing strongly last year. This year, expect more of the same, as their management teams are firmly intent on capitalizing on climbing oil prices.
Occidental Petroleum grew domestic oil production by 4.3% last year to 266,000 barrels per day. The company plans to increase that even further this year, which will turn out to be a wise decision should oil prices continue to move higher. Occidental intends to grow domestic oil production another 9% in 2014, to between 280,000-295,000 barrels per day.
ConocoPhillips increased its adjusted earnings by 6% largely through higher production, specifically in the premier oil-producing fields in the United States. Its fourth-quarter U.S. production at the Eagle Ford, Bakken, and Permian Basin positions rose 31% versus the same period the year prior. Overall, Conoco increased its total production by 2% last year, excluding the effects of its divestments and its Libyan operations.
Going forward, Conoco management maintains a solid long-term growth plan. The company expects long-term production to average between 3%-5% annually over the next several years, including in 2014. This will be made possible by significant resource discovery, including a major deep-water discovery in the Gulf of Mexico late last year which should add to production in the near term.
Meanwhile, Marathon Oil is ramping up production as well. Its profits rose 11% last year, driven by 11% growth in net production, excluding its Libyan division. Like Conoco, Marathon is gearing up in the United States. It's going to expand rig counts at the Eagle Ford and Bakken fields.
Strong production in the future will also be made possible from the fact that the independent majors hold excellent track records on reserve replacement. This is a financial measure that states how much an oil and gas company generates in reserves compared to how much of its previous reserves were produced and sold. Occidental added 156% of reserves last year from its development program. Conoco's reserves replacement ratio stood at 179% last year. Marathon did even better, with a 194% reserves replacement.
No pit stops on the road to growth
A key advantage the independent upstream focused companies are enjoying right now is that they're exclusive exploration and production majors. The integrated giants are being weighed down by evaporating margins on refined products. By contrast, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum, and Marathon Oil are seeing no such impacts from shrinking refining profitability. They're each performing very well, as their production of oil and gas continues to provide a boost.
Crude oil recently neared $102 per barrel in the United States. After rallying to begin 2014, this bodes well for the independent exploration and production majors like Occidental, Conoco, and Marathon. It's true that high oil prices are painful for consumers at the pump. While there's little that can be done to combat rising gas prices, one way to exact revenge would be to buy stocks in energy companies that benefit from high oil prices. These three oil giants certainly fit the bill, and buying them would be a great way for Fools to fight rising oil prices.
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Bob Ciura has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.