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3 Reasons Occidental Petroleum Stock Could Rise

Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY  ) is a premier oil and gas producer. It's reaping huge rewards from the energy boom taking place in the United States, just like close rival ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) . While the two companies seem identical on the surface, one of the key differences is that Occidental is focusing much more closely on the United States than ConocoPhillips, which holds considerable international assets.

This could be a very wise move for Occidental, since oil and gas production in the United States is reaching levels not seen in decades. Plus, it's improving operational efficiency with each passing year.

Add it all up, and here are three reasons why Occidental Petroleum could be a great stock to buy today.

Premier asset footprint
Occidental Petroleum has an established presence in some of the premier oil fields in the United States. The most prominent of which for the company is the Permian Basin. This is a very lucrative position for Occidental, since the Permian Basin is one of a select few onshore oil fields in the United States that produces more than 1 million barrels of oil per day.

Occidental is the largest operator and largest producer of oil in the Permian Basin. According to the company, Occidental accounts for 15% of all oil produced there.

Occidental produced a grand total of 278,000 barrels of oil per day last quarter. Of this, 150,000 barrels came from the Permian Basin. This represents approximately 54% of total production.

But Occidental also has operations in California, which is another premier area of domestic production. Occidental produced 97,000 barrels per day in California last quarter. In addition to its oil properties, Occidental is also California's largest producer of natural gas.

Production growth
The benefits of its optimally positioned portfolio are plain to see. Diluted earnings per share rose 11% last quarter. Occidental has delivered domestic oil production growth for four consecutive quarters.

Over the long term, management intends to increase production by 5%-8% per year on average. To do this, the company will focus on increasing drilling and operational efficiency, which should help keep returns on capital high. The company maintains a target of at least 15% returns on domestic assets, and at least 20% on international projects.

These targets are more ambitious than ConocoPhillips' long-term forecasts. Management expects to increase production by just 3%-5% per year going forward. Part of the reason for ConocoPhillips' relative conservatism is its international oil and gas segment, where production is only expected to remain flat through 2017.

Occidental made good on this initiative last year, so there's promise that it can hit its objectives. Domestic operating costs dropped by 17% last year. At the same time, domestic oil production increased by 4% last year. In all, Occidental improved its capital efficiency by 24% last year, which saved $900 million of capital. Occidental plans to generate another 10%-15% in capital efficiency savings this year.

Add it all up, and Occidental is streamlining its business while not sacrificing growth. That's no small achievement, and it means Occidental is running a leaner, yet more effective, company.

Benefiting from rising oil prices
Over the past several weeks, geopolitical risk has reared its ugly head once again, this time in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. When this happens, it's not unusual to see commodity prices rise. Should the price of oil increase as a result, Occidental will clearly benefit.

That's because its status as an exploration and production major makes it sensitive to fluctuations in oil prices. Occidental is predominantly an oil producer, with 63% of its total production last quarter coming from oil. Of course, this could prove to be a double-edged sword if oil prices decline. But if oil prices do go up, Occidental will be a major beneficiary.

The Foolish conclusion
The bottom line is that Occidental is a well-run, highly profitable company. Its premier asset base, strong production growth, and ability to profit immensely from rising oil prices are three reasons that make Occidental a compelling stock today.

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Bob Ciura

Bob Ciura, MBA, has written for The Motley Fool since 2012. I focus on energy, consumer goods, and technology. I look for growth at a reasonable price, with a particular fondness for market-beating dividend yields.

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