It's easy to see why investors may not be interested in oil companies nowadays. After watching oil prices slide for more than two years and a slew of companies in the business head for chapter 11 bankruptcy, it would seem that there are better opportunities in other sectors. At the same time, though, there are a lot of great companies in this industry that are trading for pretty cheap stock prices. Three that stand out today are National Oilwell Varco (NYSE:NOV), Total (NYSE:TTE), and Helmerich & Payne (NYSE:HP). Here's a quick look at why they still look attractive and why I'd be very comfortable buying today.
This stock will prove that patience is a virtue
As a shareholder of National Oilwell Varco, I can't say that I was completely happy with management's decision to cut its quarterly dividend back in April. At the same time, though, I respect that management decided to do it now while the company was still in decent financial shape rather than waiting until it had put its balance sheet under stress to try and keep the dividend payout going. Even today as the company has started to take some net income losses, it is still generating free cash flow.
What makes National Oilwell Varco so unique as an investment is its ubiquity in the oil and gas market. More than 80% of all offshore drilling rigs use National Oilwell Varco equipment, and the company's rig standardization program over the years means that those customers will be going back to the company for replacement parts rather than any competitors. It may not be noticeable today with so many rigs not working, but this leads to steady revenue streams from replacement and consumable parts.
The business of manufacturing new oil and gas equipment is going to take some time to recover from the recent downturn. There is a lot of idle equipment out there that needs to go to work before companies will want to spend on new equipment, and all that idle equipment has made for a great place to source pare parts for the equipment still in operation. Eventually, all that newer idle equipment will go back to work and the older equipment will be retired, and when that happens, someone who has had the patience to buy National Oilwell Varco and wait should be well rewarded.
Unheralded and undervalued
French oil giant Total might not have the name recognition that some of its other integrated oil and gas peers may have. That's ok, because those that are in the know with this company can benefit from one of the better positioned Big Oil companies while it trades for a much cheaper valuation than its peers ExxonMobil or Chevron.
Thanks to the timing of several investments, Total has wrapped up a large portion of its recent capital spending program and brought several projects online. This has had the double benefit of adding production to offset price declines for earnings, but it has also allowed management to more quickly bring its capital spending in line with today's oil price versus others that are still stuck paying for major projects. This all really came to a head in 2015 when the company announced that its net income declined only 18% while the rest of Big Oil saw profit declines greater than 40%.
Even though Total has outperformed its peers and still has a suite of development and exploration projects that should ensure pretty stable growth over the next several years, the company's stock is still pretty cheap. Total's stock still trades at 1.37 times tangible book value. It's not the lowest valuation it has seen in the past year, but it is still well below its historical average.
A dividend aristocrat trading at a discount
Helmerich & Payne isn't in a business that lends itself well to competitive advantages. As a lessor of land rigs, its revenue is highly dependent on the spending habits of oil and gas producers, and competition in the market means that it's extremely hard to carve out a pricing power advantage. Despite a business environment that isn't necessarily conducive of a company to generate steady returns and strong cash flow, Helmerich & Payne's management has been able to create a business with high returns and a 42-year streak of raising its dividend.
A couple things that have allowed Helmerich & Payne to succeed in this market is the company had the foresight to invest in new rigs that are capable of handling the complex drilling work associated with shale oil and gas. Almost all of the company's US based fleet is shale capable and those rigs that have kept work have generated a premium compared to other rigs available on the market. What is even more impressive, though, is that the company was able to complete this fleet transformation while keeping a very tidy balance sheet that is still flush with cash.
We're starting to see the first signs that oil and gas drilling will start to recover. When that does happen, Helmerich & Payne will be one of the first phone calls that producers make. So we're likely on the precipice of seeing the company's earnings results start to pick back up again. With shares trading at a rather modest 1.5 times tangible book and a dividend yield of 4.2%, buying Helmerich & Payne's stock looks attractive.