EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) is arguably the best-run oil company in America. Thanks to a focus on organic growth and innovation, the company has access to some of the lowest-cost and highest-return oil supplies in the world. Because of that, it can grow at a rapid rate, even at currently lower oil prices. That said, this top-tier oil company also comes with a premium price tag, which might be a turn-off to value-conscious investors.
However, those bullish on EOG will love to know that several oil companies not only have characteristics similar to it but come with a cheaper price tag. Three that stand out are Encana (NYSE:ECA), Penn West Petroleum (NYSE:PWE), and Apache (NYSE:APA).
Placing a priority on premium wells
One of the hallmarks of EOG Resources is its growing inventory of premium return drilling locations, which are those it defines as delivering a 30% after-tax rate of return at $40 oil. By focusing its capital on drilling those wells, EOG Resources has a lower breakeven point than rivals, with it able to still make money even if oil drops to $30 a barrel. As a result, it can grow at a faster rate than competitors when oil is lower, with it anticipating 15% compound annual oil production growth at flat $50 crude over the next several years.
That said, EOG Resources isn't the only oil company with a vast inventory of premium return wells. Encana (NYSE:ECA) has 10,000 such locations, though it defines them slightly differently as those that can achieve a 35% after-tax rate of return at $50 oil. While that lower return hurdle means Encana doesn't have quite as low a breakeven point as EOG Resources, with it needing $55 oil to fuel double-digit compound annual production growth, it can still deliver exceptionally high-return growth in the years ahead. In fact, the company estimates that can grow cash flow 300% by 2021 on just 60% production growth due to its focus on drilling these wells. Furthermore, investors can buy that growth at a lower price since Encana trades at just eight times its enterprise value-to-forward EBITDA projection versus the 11 times forward earnings that investors have to pay for EOG Resources.
Handling sub-$50 oil with ease
EOG Resources is one of the few oil companies that expects to finance its growth-focused capital expenditure program while living within cash flow at $50 oil. Because of that, it's not at risk of having to pull back the reins on spending, which is a concern for its more aggressive peers given that crude is currently a few dollars below that mark. That said, it's not the only oil company that can deliver robust growth at lower oil prices; Penn West Petroleum is projecting similar growth at that price point.
In Penn West's case, it's on pace to deliver mid-teens production growth this year while only spending about 80% of projected funds from operation. Because of that, the company can still achieve its growth projections at $40 oil this year. Meanwhile, with a vastly improved balance sheet and a large portfolio of high-return drilling locations, the company can deliver steady production growth over the next several years at current oil prices. Finally, with Penn West's stock currently trading at just 5.7 times forward earnings, investors are paying half the price of EOG for that low-cost oil growth.
Don't forget cheap organic growth
Another outstanding characteristic of EOG Resources is its focus on organically developing shale plays as opposed to making splashy (and expensive) acquisitions. For example, the company was one of the early leaders in developing the Eagle Ford Shale and more recently discovered several oil-rich shale layers in the Rockies. Because it got into these plays early, EOG has ultra-low acquisition costs, which enhances its drilling returns.
One company that's looking to replicate that organic success is Apache, which not only hired away EOG's former exploration manager, but it recently unveiled a massive new oil play in an overlooked spot of the red-hot Permian Basin. Dubbed Alpine High, Apache believes it holds more than 3 billion barrels of oil and another 75 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and that's in just three of the five layers it has tested. What's remarkable is that Apache paid about $1,300 per acre to lease that land at a time when many of its rivals were spending more than $30,000 an acre to acquire land just north of its position. Because of the combination of a low acquisition cost and the high resource content of the rocks, Apache believes it can deliver double-digit annual output growth through 2018 at $50 oil. Even better, investors can buy that growth for just 6.7 times forward earnings.
EOG Resources is an exceptionally well-run oil company. That said, the top-notch oil stock also comes with a premium price tag, which might cause value-focused investors to shy away. That's why investors who like EOG's prospects will love to know that Encana, Penn West Petroleum, and Apache have similar characteristics but without the premium price tag.