Oil prices continued their recent rally today. WTI, the U.S. oil price benchmark, was up more than 1% to $54.50 a barrel, while Brent, the global oil benchmark, rose about 0.5% to more than $56 a barrel. That continued crude oil's recent climb as WTI is now up more than 10% in 2021 and at its highest level since last February. Those higher oil prices are great news for Exxon and should enable the oil giant to generate more cash this year.
The recent uptick in the oil market is making analysts increasingly bullish on the stock. Yesterday, J.P. Morgan upgraded Exxon for the first time in seven years, changing its rating from neutral to overweight, and saying that "execution might finally be turning the corner." Add in higher oil prices, and its nearly 7%-yielding dividend is looking increasingly secure.
Barclays followed that up today by upgrading Exxon from equal weight to overweight. Fueling that bullish view is a better oil price outlook and lower costs, which could enable the company to significantly improve its financial metrics this year.
Exxon needs higher oil prices to generate enough cash to support its dividend and capital spending program. It's finally getting them thanks to the recent rally in the oil market, due in large part to Saudi Arabia. If oil continues moving higher, Exxon's stock should follow. However, given its reliance on crude, it could give back its recent gains if oil prices take a breather. Because of that, investors need to buckle up for what could be a bumpy ride.