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

ConocoPhillips and Chevron are two oil behemoths with similar growth strategies, but which is the better play for investors looking for both income and growth?

May 2, 2014 at 9:00AM

Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) are two of the largest listed oil companies in the U.S., but each business has its differences.

For example, Chevron is an integrated global player with both upstream and downstream operations across the petrochemicals industry. Meanwhile, after the spinoff of Philips 66 two years ago, Conoco is now a pure exploration and production play.

However, one thing that both Chevron and Conoco have in common is the fact that they are both seeking rapid growth during the next few years.

But which company should investors choose for both income and growth?

Annual growth
As the smaller company I'll start with Conoco. Conoco instantly stands out as having the more progressive growth plans with targeted annual production increases as opposed to the production surge Chevron is looking for, as covered below.

Conoco's management recently unveiled the company's development for the next few years, targeting consistent 3% to 5% compound annual growth in output through 2016 driven by higher margin production.

Essentially, Conoco is looking to develop projects with lower lifting costs than current developments -- simply put, higher margin projects. The company has already made a great start to this by increasing its cash margin by 11% during the 2012-2013 period.

In addition, Conoco is targeting an annual organic reserve replacement target of more than 100%.

To achieve this growth Conoco has laid out a strict spending plan, planning expenditure of no more than $16 billion over the period in order to achieve its goals.

And a key part of Conoco's growth plans is the company's presence within the Eagle Ford. Indeed, Conoco is one of the lowest cost and highest return operators within the Eagle Ford region, and the company is planning to leverage this current efficiency for growth.

Conoco plans to increase its production by nearly 40% within the Eagle Ford region as part of its growth strategy, targeting output of 250,000 barrels of oil per day by 2017. With leading production margins, it is likely that Conoco's profits will surge as a result of this output expansion.

ConocoPhillips also has a number of plays under development outside the U.S., including offshore prospects in Australia, Angola, and Senegal. Conventional and unconventional plays are also being developed within Norway, Indonesia, Poland, and Colombia, and the company plans to develop several Gulf of Mexico properties.

Production surge
On the other hand, Chevron's production is expected to explode 20% to 3.3 million barrels per day through 2017 thanks to the completion of several huge projects. These projects include, but are not limited to, 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.

What's more, Chevron has plenty of growth planned after 2017 and through to the end of the decade.

After 2017, Chevron has 10 planned projects worth over $1 billion commencing construction/production within North America alone, and a further 13 smaller projects are also under consideration.

Projects within North American slated to start after 2017 include the Kitimat LNG project and the Hebron heavy oil project off the east coast of Canada, estimated to contain 400 million 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

The income question
So, it would appear that Chevron is the better choice for growth investors: If the company can meet its lofty growth targets then its production is set to surge higher over the next few years. Conoco's production as explained above is expected to expand at a slower rate.

Nevertheless, there is still one key question to ask: What about income?

Well, it would appear that at first glance, Conoco is the better choice for income as the company's shares currently support a dividend yield of 3.7% compared to Chevron's 3.2% yield. However, Chevron offers something that Conoco does not, and that is share repurchases.

While not strictly a source of income for investors, share repurchases are still a distribution of cash to investors, and are usually a more tax-efficient method of returning money to shareholders.

Chevron spent $4.5 billion buying back its own stock throughout 2013, which works out as a cash distribution of around $2.3 per share, add this to the $4 per share annual dividend payout and Chevron returned $6.3 per share to investors throughout 2013, equivalent to a yield of 5% at present levels.

Foolish summary
So overall, the investment case for both Chevron and Conoco is compelling. However, Chevron's share repurchases swing the deal, and I would say that Chevron is the better pick for investors seeking both income and growth during the next few years.

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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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