Pardon me while I crawl out on a limb: It seems to me that we could be seeing the early stages of what may become a wholesale -- and self-imposed -- breakup of the big integrated oil companies.
Indeed, to my way of thinking, ConocoPhillips'
Beyond that, I wouldn't be surprised to see upstream-downstream combinations begin to fade at Big Oil. Indeed, earlier this month, Marathon
Fine. Selling their retail units makes all sorts of financial and political sense for the integrated companies. By getting out of the retail business, the companies exit a business with low margins and lessen their customers' association with them when they get hosed at the pump. But does it really make sense to assume that other integrated companies could contemplate the Marathon approach and ultimately separate exploration and production from refining?
I think it does. Just look at Exxon's most recent quarter, wherein it watched upstream profits jump by 68%, only to suffer a 54% drop in refining and marketing income. And Royal Dutch Shell
What does this mean for Foolish investors? Think about it: The independent producers have already gotten to the more streamlined form that I think the majors are eyeing. That's all the more reason why I believe that, while Exxon is a terrific proxy for the integrated group today, for the intermediate or long term, your best bets are the independent likes of Anadarko Petroleum
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