Over the past few months, oil industry giants Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) have outlined their growth plans for the next few years. The two behemoths are each following different strategies.
ExxonMobil is seeking stability, cutting capital expenditures, and focusing on maintaining output. Chevron, on the other hand, is looking to drive production higher by nearly 20% over the next few years.
Two different plans
Exxon is struggling to replace falling output from its mature fields. As the company currently produces more than 4 million barrels of oil per day across its portfolio, it needs to increase production by a few hundred thousand barrels per day just to offset declines from mature fields.
ExxonMobil is a great example of the problems big oil is currently trying to grapple with. This year, the company is bringing on stream more projects than it has ever done in a single year. For many oil companies, this would result in a surge in production. For ExxonMobil, however, production is only expected to expand 3% between now and 2017.
Chevron, which is currently producing under 3 million barrels of oil per day, has several huge projects coming on stream between now and 2017. These are expected to boost oil production by around 20%. However, most of this production growth is expected to come from the commissioning of two huge Gulf of Mexico wells and the colossal, overbudget Gorgon and Wheatstone liquefied natural gas developments in Australia.
As Chevron develops these huge projects, questions remain as to what the company will do for growth when they are completed.
In comparison, smaller peer ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) has just unveiled its own plan to grow production. Conoco's plans look appealing.
Plans for growth
Why does ConocoPhillips look so appealing? Well, rather than chase all-out growth like Chevron or just sustain production like ExxonMobil, Conoco is targeting slow and steady growth through a combination of factors.
Overall, Conoco's goal is to achieve double-digit returns per annum for shareholders. It intends to do this through a combination of production growth, increased efficiencies, and dividends.
Conoco's management is targeting 3% to 5% annual growth in production by unlocking oil reserves from both conventional and unconventional sources. Additionally, the company is looking to increase margins by around 3% to 5% per annum by targeting oil projects with lower lifting costs and lower start-up costs.
To achieve these goals, Conoco is looking to spend around $16 billion per annum with 95% of this capex devoted to investments that deliver margins greater than the company's average today.
The company also plans to boost shareholder returns will a compelling dividend. Conoco's shares already support a dividend yield of 3.5%, which is above the market average. All the company has to do is keep hiking this payout in line with earnings growth.
While ExxonMobil seeks production stability and Chevron drives for rapid output growth during the next few years, Conoco is seeking steady output growth and is looking to achieve double-digit annual returns for investors.
As the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. In this case, Conoco's slow, planed growth that targets double-digit returns for investors could be the best choice for investors.
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.