The heat is on this summer, and not just with the weather. The stock market has been on an upward trend since Independence Day. (Which feels so long ago, right?) And with oil prices surging, one of the biggest rallies this year has been in oil stocks.
Luckily, there are still some values to be found in the industry. We asked three of our Motley Fool contributors for their hottest oil stock picks for this summer. They came back with Newfield Exploration (NYSE:NFX), Apache Corporation (NYSE:APA), and Total SA (NYSE:TOT). Here's why.
From worst to first?
Matt DiLallo (Newfield Exploration): This year has been great for oil stocks, most of which have been torrid thanks to higher oil prices. However, a few have missed that rally, including Newfield Exploration, which was among the worst-performing oil stocks during the first half of the year. That underperformance doesn't make any sense, which is why I think Newfield looks like a compelling oil stock to consider buying in the second half.
Newfield Exploration expects 2018 to be an excellent year. Overall, the company plans to invest $1.3 billion in drilling new wells that would expand its oil output in the U.S. by 20% to 25% over last year. The company can fund that plan within cash flow assuming oil averages $58 a barrel, putting it in position to generate significant excess cash now that crude is in the $70s.
Newfield could reinvest that money into drilling more wells. But a better use would be to repurchase some of its dirt-cheap stock, which has lost a quarter of its value since the start of 2017 even though oil's up nearly 40%. A buyback could be a needle-mover for investors, considering that several of its peers have started using their excess cash to repurchase stock in the past several months, which has led to big-time outperformance.
Newfield has a lot going for it right now since it can grow production and cash flow at a high rate. Once you add in the fact that its stock looks cheap, and that it could soon announce a share repurchase program, it's one of the top oil stocks to buy now, in my opinion.
Another laggard turns around
John Bromels (Apache Corporation): Like Newfield Exploration, oil and gas driller Apache Corporation had a dismal start to 2018 despite rising oil prices. Like Newfield, it's not quite clear exactly why the market was so sour on Apache, which has excellent growth prospects as it continues to exploit its massive new Alpine High find in the red-hot Permian Basin.
Alpine High is a game-changer for Apache, assuming its projections about the play are correct (and they've proved to be so far). Management expects a jaw-dropping 150% compounded annual production growth rate from Alpine High over the next three years, hitting a projected production range of 160,000 to 180,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE/d) by 2020. Considering Alpine High wasn't producing anything at all in 2016, that's a huge gain for the company, which produced 367,000 BOE/d last quarter. In other words, by 2020, Alpine High could be responsible for fully one-third of the company's oil and gas output.
Better still, Apache pays a best-in-class dividend, currently yielding about 2.2%. And investors seem to be catching on. The stock, which had been hovering below $42 for much of the year, has started to take off again. Luckily, it's still trading for less than $50, which -- for a company with such excellent prospects -- looks like a fantastic bargain. But it may not stay this cheap for long, so now looks like a great time to pick up some shares of this beaten-down oil and gas driller.
Good returns today, a plan for tomorrow
Tyler Crowe (Total SA): Any conversation about oil stocks doesn't seem complete nowadays without some discussion about what these companies will do once oil isn't as large a force in the global energy markets. Personally, I think those concerns are further down the road than a lot of people want to admit. That said, there are few companies managing the current oil environment and keeping an eye on the future better than Total.
Most of a company's success has to do with management's ability to allocate capital to the right places, but sometimes companies just get lucky. Total was very lucky that it was in a position to quickly wind down its capital spending just as oil prices started to crash. That enabled the company to preserve the integrity of its balance sheet, and position it to acquire attractive assets when others were selling at a deep discount. That has enabled the company to maintain some of the best returns among its integrated oil and gas peers recently, and set it up well to grow production and return lots of cash to shareholders.
On top of its strong oil credentials, the company is taking some of the most significant strides into the renewable energy space. It has long been the majority shareholder of U.S. solar panel manufacturer SunPower, but it has also been making several smaller investments in solar power development, energy storage, and battery technology. Management expects to spend more than $500 million annually on its renewable energy segment, and for that part of the business to generate $500 million per year in free cash flow by 2022.
The combination of a robust oil and gas business today coupled with a plan to have a profitable renewables business in less than five years is a rare combination in the oil and gas industry, and makes Total a compelling long-term investment in this sector.