What You Should Keep in Mind When Chevron Reports Earnings

Integrated oil and gas major Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) is set to report quarterly results on May 2. After a punishing performance last year, energy giants across the integrated space like Chevron and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) are looking forward to better times ahead. In Chevron's case that's looking doubtful. The company already issued an interim first-quarter update to warn investors that the first three months didn't exactly go well.

Despite this, Chevron's share price has held up fairly well to start the year, implying a sense of optimism among the investor community. This is most likely due to hopes that Chevron's robust upstream portfolio will significantly increase production in the coming years. Chevron has a few select projects that are absolutely critical to its future, which investors should focus on when the company releases earnings.

Australia and North America in focus
Chevron has two major geographic regions that investors should focus on, which are set to fuel the company's future. The first is Australia, where the company is in the process of building two separate liquefied natural gas facilities to serve the emerging markets in Asia. These are known as Gorgon and Wheatstone, and are nearing completion. Both projects are classified as 2014-2016 start-ups. When management last updated investors on these projects, it stated Gorgon as 78% complete and Wheatstone as 30% complete, with 85% of its LNG committed under long-term contracts. As a result, watch out for any further progress on these two projects.

Nearer-term, you should look for updates on Chevron's considerable deep-water Gulf of Mexico projects. Two that hold promise for the near future are the Jack/St. Malo and Big Foot developments, which are slated for start-up in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Cumulatively, the projects hold the potential to add 256,000 barrels of oil to Chevron's average production. That represents a significant opportunity, since Chevron produces a grand total of 728,000 barrels per day in all of North America. In other words, the Jack/St. Malo and Big Foot projects could by themselves increase Chevron's North American production by 35%.

In all, Chevron expects to earn $2.57 per share in profits for the first quarter. This would represent flat performance sequentially and is roughly 6% below average analyst expectations. It would also represent a 19% decline in earnings year over year. Since Chevron is still stuck in a difficult period, due to field declines taking a bite out of production and an awful climate for downstream refining, it's critical to keep your eyes on any bit of good news Chevron might have in store.

A dividend boost in the offing
While it may be hard to exercise patience with Chevron's production totals, at least investors are paid well to wait for progress to materialize. Chevron pays investors a strong 3.25% dividend yield, which stands to move even higher in the near future. That's because it's now been one full year since Chevron last bumped up its payout, and it maintains a strong track record of regularly increasing its dividend. Both Chevron and ExxonMobil share an impressive history of returning cash to shareholders, and it's likely they will both keep those streaks intact.

ExxonMobil has increased its dividend for 31 years in a row, while Chevron has raised its distribution for 26 consecutive years. Chevron has increased its dividend by 9% compounded annually over the past five years. It's reasonable to assume the company will raise its dividend by a similar percentage, so investors can expect a nice pay raise coming soon.

The Foolish takeaway
Chevron, ExxonMobil, and the integrated majors more broadly took it on the chin last year due to falling oil and gas production and shrinking margins on the downstream side. Unfortunately, even though investors were hoping for recovery sooner rather than later, it doesn't seem like that's going to happen. However, Chevron still has some big projects in the pipeline to fuel future growth.

Chevron's massive LNG projects in Australia and its deep-water developments in the Gulf of Mexico are two major areas of future production. These undertakings will add significantly to Chevron's production in the years ahead and represent the future of the company. That's why you'd be wise to pay close attention to these specific items when Chevron reports first-quarter earnings.

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