Shell vs. Chevron: Which Should You Pick for Income and Growth?

Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron are two of the world's largest oil companies, but if you're looking for income and growth which should you go with?

Apr 15, 2014 at 10:49AM

Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-B) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) are, respectively, the second and third largest publicly traded oil companies in the world by market cap. However, these two oil behemoths are two very different companies with different growth prospects, shareholder returns, and views on the future of the oil industry.

The question is, which company is the better choice for investors seeking both income and growth over the medium to long term?

Growth planned out
Let's start with Chevron. Chevron's most attractive quality is its planned growth from now through the end of the decade, which, in itself, is enough of a reason to invest in the company.

In particular, Chevron 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.

But that's not all. From 2017 through the end of the decade, Chevron has 10 planned projects worth more than $1 billion commencing construction/production within North America, and a further 13 smaller projects are also under consideration.

Projects within North America that are 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.

Aside from these growth projects, Chevron has another trick up its sleeve. Many investors don't realize that, out of all the world's publicly traded oil companies, Chevron is actually the most profitable and most efficient at getting oil out the ground. Specifically, Chevron's adjusted earnings per barrel of oil are in the region of $17, more than 40% above that of its nearest peer, ConocoPhillips.

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.

But while Chevron has plenty of plans for growth, Shell is somewhat struggling to drive growth and is instead pruning its portfolio to improve the company's return on equity. 

Driving profits
Shell has committed itself to $15 billion of divestments during the next few years in an attempt to prune its portfolio, discarding low-margin assets. In addition, Shell is currently trying to turn around the fortunes of its North American business, which is losing money despite the fact that $80 billion of capital is employed in the region.

Actually, in total, Shell's assets amount to $352 billion at current exchange rates, indicating that nearly 30% of Shell's assets are achieving a negative return, a terrible return on investment for one of the world's largest oil and gas companies.

Still, to try to combat this loss, Shell has cut jobs and packaged its North American business into a stand-alone entity, similar to the strategy BP (NYSE:BP) has taken in the region. In addition to the reorganization and job cuts, Shell is reducing capital spending within North America. The company cut North American capex 50% last year, and a further 20% cut is expected for this year.

Shell is not just rethinking its North American strategy. The company is cutting its exposure to unproductive assets worldwide.

Earlier this year, the company sold its refining and petrol station network within Australia and other downstream assets, including refineries within the UK, Germany, France, Norway, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Finland, and Sweden. Further, Shell is looking to sell upstream assets in Nigeria.

Growth or income
Shell's growth plans are non-existent; but, on the other hand, when it comes to the question of income, Shell holds the torch over Chevron.

Shell's primary listing is in London, and there the company's shares currently yield around 5%. Shell's ADRs listed in New York currently offer a dividend yield of around 4.5%. In comparison, Chevron's dividend yield sits at 3.4%. So, it's clear which company is the better choice for income.

Nonetheless, Chevron is returning cash to investors through a stock repurchase program, something Shell has not yet committed itself to.

Foolish summary
In conclusion, this quick analysis shows that growth investors should look to Chevron, while Shell's shares look more attractive for investors seeking income. If I had to pick one company, it would be Chevron, as the company's dividend yield is not that much lower than Shell's, and the company's plans for growth are unrivaled.

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Rupert Hargreaves owns shares of Chevron. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. 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.

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