ExxonMobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) is one of the largest energy companies in the world, but it has fallen on hard times lately. Despite a few ups and downs along the way, the stock has basically gone nowhere for a decade. However, management has plans to do something about that, and it could lead to much better days for the company and its investors. Could ExxonMobil Corporation really be a millionaire maker stock?
The big plans
Exxon is investing in its future today and will continue to do so for the next several years. The plans are big, too, with the diversified energy giant intending to spend as much as $30 billion a year on capital investments through 2025. The projects span across the company's entire footprint, from upstream drilling to downstream refining and chemicals.
On the upstream side, Exxon is working in three main areas. The first is onshore U.S. energy production. Between the second and third quarters, progress here led to a sequential increase in production, the first increase in a couple of years. It was a nice sign that progress is being made on the big-picture plan. The next projects in the lineup are longer term and include offshore oil drilling in areas like Guyana and Brazil as well as liquified natural gas development in places like Mozambique.
Downstream, meanwhile, should see development and investment across the world. For example, the diversified energy giant has notable plans to increase refining and chemical production in Asia and in the United States. One key goal of these efforts is to move up the value chain, so Exxon is producing products for which it can charge more money. It expects these investments to be highly profitable as well, providing returns of 15% to 20%.
Most important, though, is that Exxon has the financial strength to see these projects through no matter what happens with the volatile price of oil. That's because it is working off a rock-solid foundation on its balance sheet, where long-term debt makes up about 10% of its capital structure. So, even though oil prices recently fell into yet another bear market, Exxon hasn't stopped working on its long-term goals.
How big of a deal is this?
The outcome from all of this spending is projected to be critical to Exxon's future. For starters, the new oil and natural gas production will offset the natural declines from older projects. In fact, by 2025, the new drilling the energy giant has undertaken is expected to represent roughly half of its upstream earnings. The downstream businesses, meanwhile, are expected to double their earnings between 2017 and 2025. If Exxon's high-end projections come to fruition, investors are likely to reward the shares with materially higher prices. And that could, indeed, allow Exxon shares to push investors' portfolios toward the million-dollar mark.
Still, there is one big caveat: oil prices. Exxon operates in a highly cyclical commodity space, highlighted by the recent pullback in oil noted above. And that's where things get hazy for investors. Exxon didn't provide an absolute number on expected growth; it provided a range based on various oil price levels. If oil prices are in the $40 per barrel range in 2025, it expects to see a 35% increase in earnings over 2017 and a 50% increase in cash flow. Those numbers jump to 135% and 105% at $60 oil, and 225% and 150% at $80 oil. There's a big difference between $40 and $80 oil, but you get the idea -- the higher oil prices are, the better Exxon and its shareholders will do. Investors will likely reward the stock accordingly.
Is Exxon a millionaire maker?
One perverse benefit shareholders have today is that Exxon's stock has been among the worst performers in its peer group over the past decade. So the stock is starting from a low point, comparatively. But that weak stock performance has also led to a robust dividend yield of 4.5%, which puts Exxon squarely in the income stock space. The yield hasn't been this high since the 1990s. With upside stock performance so heavily dependent on oil prices, in fact, it's probably better for investors seeking quick capital appreciation to look elsewhere.
Exxon stock, then, is more appropriate for income-focused investors who are happy to collect the dividend that oil prices at the low end of the range would continue to support. The potential upside that higher oil prices coupled with the company's development projects could produce would simply be icing on the cake. In the end, Exxon could be a millionaire-maker stock, but so much depends on volatile oil prices that it's probably best to look at it as an income stock today.