After an up-and-down year for oil prices, it seems like crude should be much more stable in 2018. Not only have OPEC and several non-members already agreed to hold back production, but oil companies in North America are starting to return cash to investors instead of accelerating production growth. Those factors, when combined with rising demand, should prevent crude prices from diving next year, and could even push them higher.
That scenario would provide a big boost to oil producers in the U.S., especially those on pace to increase production. With that in mind, here are three oil stocks with the potential to provide great returns in 2018.
Rising cash flow could potentially fuel a buyback
Noble Energy (NBL) spent the oil market downturn repositioning its portfolio around three top-tier shale plays. The results of those shifts, combined with its eastern Mediterranean business, position it for further success in 2018. Noble Energy's U.S. shale business has been growing like crazy this year: Oil output was up 25% last quarter -- 5% higher than expectations -- thanks to strong well results. However, what's even more impressive is that its cash flow per barrel rose 50% over the past year, which positions the company to produce a gusher of cash in 2018. Despite those impressive results, Noble's stock is down nearly 30% this year.
That slide could reverse in 2018 considering what the company has coming down the pipeline. While Noble hasn't officially set its budget for 2018, under its current five-year plan, the company is aiming to grow oil production at a 23% compound annual growth rate through 2020, which it should be able to do within cash flow and select asset sales at around $50 a barrel. Meanwhile, Noble noted that it would likely use any excess cash generated if oil remains above that level to either further improve its balance sheet or return more money to shareholders. That high growth rate, with the potential catalyst of a share buyback, could provide Noble's stock with the fuel needed to rebound sharply in 2018.
Already generating excess cash with more on the way
Concho Resources' (CXO) production is on pace to rise 26% this year, which is impressive considering that the company has generated such a high rate of growth while producing $440 million in free cash flow over the past two years. However, despite that terrific performance, the stock is only up about 4% this year -- below oil's nearly 8% gain.
Its price gains could pick up in 2018, considering that Concho is on pace to increase output at a 20% compound annual growth rate through 2019. Given that the company put out that forecast when oil prices were lower, Concho could deliver significant excess cash in 2018 if current prices hold up and it doesn't use those funds to step on the gas. Since it already has one of the lowest leverage ratios among shale drillers, the company could use that money to repurchase shares, giving its stock price the fuel to head higher.
High octane growth
Parsley Energy's (PE) oil output rocketed a stunning 63% year over year last quarter. While recent acquisitions fueled some of that growth, the company's drilling program is moving the needle considering that oil production jumped 10% sequentially. Yet despite its jaw-dropping growth rate, Parsley Energy's stock price wilted by 24% in 2017.
However, with oil prices expected to hold steady or rise next year, cash should pour into its coffers in 2018. The company anticipates its oil production will average between 67,500 to 72,500 barrels per day next year, which represents roughly 50% growth from 2017's average daily oil rate. While the company does currently expect to outspend cash flow to fund this growth, that bold bet would pay off if crude prices rise, which could take the stock up with it.
Set up for a big bounce back
Given the current forecast, 2018 could be an exceptional year for oil producers since crude appears to have finally found its footing. While all producers would benefit if oil stands firm, those on pace to boost their outputs would reap even greater rewards.