After an attack on Saudi Arabian oil sites destroyed 5% of the world's supply of crude, the price of oil registered its biggest one-day spike in more than a decade. Shares of independent oil producers rose in response as investors predicted that higher crude prices would benefit the companies' bottom lines.
But right after a big price spike usually isn't the best time to invest in a company. That's why I'm looking beyond independent oil exploration and production companies for buys. If you're interested in the oil industry, you might want to consider Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A)(NYSE:RDS-B), Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD), or Casey's General Stores (NASDAQ:CASY). Here's why they look like good buys right now.
A consistent payout
Big oil companies, also known as the integrated majors, are oil producers, too, of course. But thanks to their extensive refining and marketing operations, their stocks tend to be less susceptible to big swings in oil prices. That can be a boon to investors who want to limit the volatility of their portfolio, or income investors looking for a dividend payout.
Shell currently offers the highest dividend yield among the oil majors, at 6.5%. Moreover, that dividend is comparatively safe: Even during the oil price downturn of 2014 to 2017, Shell didn't cut its dividend like many independent oil producers.
It is also trading at an attractive valuation right now, thanks to a rare earnings miss in Q2 2019. Investors had become accustomed to Shell knocking its earnings numbers out of the park, as it did in Q4 2018 and Q1 2019. And as a result, when weak oil and gas prices conspired to weigh down earnings in Q2, Wall Street was not impressed. But Shell is now trading at just 11.7 times earnings, much lower than any of its peers in big oil. By other valuation metrics, like enterprise value to EBITDA, and price to book value, Shell still has a lower valuation than almost all of its peers.
A consistent outperformer, dividend payer, and now a good value, too: Shell looks like a buy.
Speaking of payouts
Our next oil industry player hasn't just maintained its payout, like Shell, but has an almost-unparalleled record of quarterly payout increases as a midstream master limited partnership (MLP). Enterprise Products Partners operates a network of pipelines, terminals, and natural gas processing and treatment plants based primarily in Texas and the Gulf Coast, but stretching as far east as New York State and as far north as Minnesota.
Crude oil makes up just a small fraction of Enterprise's network, which relies more heavily on refined products and natural gas liquids, but the company is still an important midstream player in the oil industry. It has a reputation for being incredibly well managed, which has allowed the partnership to thrive in an era when the MLP structure has fallen out of favor. Management has successfully chosen expansion projects that have driven growth and consistently churned out buckets of cash.
It's true that Enterprise's performance has historically lagged the S&P 500, and that trend has continued so far in 2019, with the company's unit price only rising 18.2% versus the S&P's 19.7%. But the real value in Enterprise is in its distribution -- the MLP version of a dividend -- which is currently yielding 6%, and which the company has increased every quarter for almost 15 years. If a consistent and reliable payout is what you're after, Enterprise is a top-notch pick.
A gasoline play that's not about the gas
Say, though, that you're not interested in a dividend payout. You might consider looking at the end of the oil production-to-market cycle: gasoline retailers, which sell fuel to consumers. But for many such retailers, that isn't where the bulk of their money is made. Gasoline is a high-volume, low-margin product, so retailers generate much of their actual earnings from sales made inside the convenience store attached to the filling station.
Take, for example, Casey's General Stores, a convenience store and gasoline station operator with locations primarily in or near Midwestern towns of 5,000 people or fewer. While Casey's hasn't been able to do much about its fuel sales or fuel margins, the company has successfully improved its sales of prepackaged foods and prepared foods like pizzas and sandwiches, which were up an impressive 5.7% year over year in its most recent quarter.
The company has recently turned to technology to help maximize profits, implementing a centralized fuel-price optimization program called Price Advantage. New CEO Darren Rebelez credits the program for helping the company's fuel profit margins increase 400 basis points year over year in Q1, which pushed the company's gross profit from fuel up 22%. Casey's has also recently launched a new website and an app to help streamline food orders at its stores and through its pizza delivery service.
The positive effects of these changes are showing up in the stock price, which has already jumped 28.5% this year. And if the company can sustain its momentum and continue to improve margins and sales, this could be just the beginning. It doesn't look like it's too late to hop on board this unconventional oil industry play, and you'll even get a small 0.7% dividend yield to boot.
Energize your portfolio
There are many oil stocks besides oil producers. Oil majors, oil pipeline companies, and gasoline retailers all play crucial roles in the oil industry, and are less susceptible to the ups and downs of the oil market. That's why Royal Dutch Shell, Enterprise Products Partners, and Casey's General Stores all look like good buys even in a time of oil price uncertainty.