At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." So you might think we'd be the last people to give virtual ink to such "news." And we would be -- if that were all we were doing.

But in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We'll also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the best ...
Is the economy recovering? Will the Fed's spending spree, aimed at spurring the recovery, spark a tidal wave of inflation? Is it, in short, time to start buying shares of companies that sell dollar-priced commodities -- like Big Oil?

According to Jefferies & Co, yes. And for that reason, the Wall Street analyst took a closer look at the oil industry yesterday, and came up with two companies that might bear a closer examination:

Total
First up on Jefferies' buy list: Total (NYSE: TOT). BP (NYSE: BP) excepted, Jefferies believes the French oil giant is the cheapest oil major out there -- but not for long: "The outlook for Total is now much brighter, with growth in its upstream business returning, and ... a solid pipeline of future opportunities."

Jefferies isn't as optimistic as the rest of Wall Street, which believes Total will earn more than $6 both this year and next, followed by long-term growth of about 3% per year. In contrast, Jefferies predicts only $4.90 per share in earnings this year, and $5.23 in 2011. Still, Jefferies thinks the stock is a buy and sees 10 years of solid growth ahead for Total. With a P/E of just 8.6 at today's prices, paying a 5.2% dividend, almost any level of growth should suffice to make this pick work out.

ConocoPhillips
Is 3% growth not enough to trip your trigger? Take a look at the other end of the growth spectrum, suggests Jefferies. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) is a slow starter, expected to earn only $5.90 this year and to grow its earnings just 10% over the next two years. But according to Jefferies, Conoco is in the midst of a "multi-year strategic turnaround, designed to raise returns ... reduce debt [and produce] higher growth potential." Most folks on Wall Street already agree with this, positing 17% compound annual earnings growth over the next five years. At a P/E only a bit pricier than Total's (8.9), and paying an entirely respectable 3.2% dividend, Conoco looks attractive.

You've seen the "good." Now here's the bad ... and the ugly
Less attractive, to Jefferies' nuanced eye, is Italy's Eni (NYSE: E): "Despite an improving upstream outlook, with good visibility over future growth prospects, we are concerned that the company's growing debt might lead to another dividend cut." So the company's 4.5% dividend might not be all it's cracked up to be after all (and note that it's already inferior to Total's.) Throw in a P/E ratio that, while not exactly exorbitant at just 9.8, is still more expensive than either Conoco's or Total's, and there's really no reason to buy "the rest" when you already know who's best.

Likewise with ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM). Jefferies has generally good things to say about the world's premier oil producer. It's got a "dominant position in production and reserves in the upstream" for one thing, a "global LNG" business for another, and is expanding to tap oil reserves in "West Africa" for a third. Jefferies also likes the foresight demonstrated by Exxon's purchase of XTO -- even if weak natural gas prices aren't exactly making this look like a brilliant move at present. Why then does Jefferies only rate the stock a "hold?"

Honestly, I'm not sure. Pegged for 12% long-term growth and paying shareholders a modest 2.4% dividend, Exxon looks entirely buy-able at today's sub-13 price-to-earnings ratio.

Speaking of lack of certainty, I'm just as unsure why Jefferies takes it so easy on BP. Initiating coverage of this one, too, with a "hold" rating, Jefferies blasts the company for "negligence" that could cause its liabilities to victims of the Gulf Spill to swell. Yet the contrast with Exxon really couldn't be starker. In contrast to Exxon's modest P/E ratio, BP has no profits -- and so no P/E either. Next to Exxon's tidy dividend yield, BP is pegged for no dividend payout whatsoever this year. And whereas Exxon's 12% growth rate exceeds the industry average, most analysts believe BP's earnings will grow at just 5% per year over the next five years -- less than half the average pace.

What am I? Chopped liver?
Still, its lack of enthusiasm over Exxon, and its insufficient skepticism over BP notwithstanding, the single thing I find strangest about Jefferies' entree into the oil-majors is ... how it managed to miss Chevron (NYSE: CVX) when initiating its oil picks. Seems to me, if the analyst is looking for low P/E ratios, decent dividends, and sterling growth prospects -- it need look no farther than Chevron.

Here we have a P/E of only 10.6, dwarfed by the company's outsized prospects for nearly 19% annual long-term earnings growth. Chevron's 3.3% dividend isn't the biggest in the oil world -- but it's easily the equal of Conoco's today, and if Chevron grows as predicted, its dividends could well grow even faster.

Seems to me, if Total and Conoco are "good" -- then Chevron is easily the best prospect out there.

Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 607 out of more than 170,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Chevron and Total are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. The Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.