The Motley Fool recently released its list of The 25 Best Companies in America, naming the best businesses the nation has to offer. Yet even among companies that didn't make the final cut, some stocks distinguished themselves with their high quality and promise. National Oilwell Varco (NYSE:NOV) is one of those companies, and it definitely deserves at least an honorable mention for its achievements.
The case for National Oilwell Varco
National Oilwell Varco is a huge player in the energy industry. But you won't see its name plastered on the side of gas stations or listed among companies making big oil and gas discoveries, because Varco is neither an exploration and production company nor a downstream marketer of energy products. Rather, Varco is the company that oil and gas producers go to in order to get the equipment they need, including derricks, blowout preventers, mud pumps, and other drilling components, as well as the control systems and instrumentation necessary to monitor and guide drilling operations.
Unlike most areas of the energy industry, in which a large number of competitors vie for dominance, Varco has already captured market share of 60%, thanks to acquisitions of rival firms. Its recent offer to buy Robbins & Myers (NYSE:RBN) for $2.5 billion, for instance, will add pump technology and flow control capacity to Varco's arsenal. Moreover, because its equipment is useful for drilling of all kinds, the vacillations between oil, natural gas liquids, and dry gas drilling that producers have made in recent years don't have an impact on Varco. As long as drilling is occurring, Varco can profit from it.
How National Oilwell Varco treats its stakeholders
It's important to look at National Oilwell Varco from the perspective of all of its stakeholders, including not just investors but also workers, customers, and the broader community. For its more than 40,000 employees, Varco has turned its massive growth into job opportunities around the world, offering careers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Moreover, its Next Generation program of training college graduates about the ins and outs of the oil and gas industry ensures a steady flow of well-qualified candidates who can serve the company throughout their careers.
Where Varco truly shines, though, is in how it serves its customers. By acting as a one-stop shop for exploration and production companies of all sizes, Varco has done an excellent job of getting its customers in the habit of looking to the company anytime they need something related to their oil and gas operations. The company counts Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE:PBR) as a big customer, and with Petrobras having made huge discoveries off the Brazilian coast in recent years, that relationship will likely gain in significance in the years ahead.
For investors, National Oilwell Varco's stock has been mired in some of the same trends that have held many exploration and production companies back. As prices have plunged, many producers have had to mothball projects or cut back on production in hopes of waiting out the downturn, especially in the natural gas area. That's a big part of why Varco has only managed to see share-price gains of just about 5% annually since early 2008 -- a big letdown from the nearly 500% gains the stock saw in the preceding five years. Still, with substantial revenue growth and double-digit profit margins, Varco is still a growth stock, and its current valuation gives prospective shareholders a compelling argument to buy now.
Finally, one area where Varco is looking to improve the world is in its assistance in helping dry areas of the world drill for safe drinking water. By providing more than 17,000 pumping stations throughout Africa as well as in India and the Philippines, Varco's NOV Mono project works with charitable organizations to provide the clean water necessary to improve school attendance, medical care, and agricultural productivity.
The case against National Oilwell Varco
Simply by being in the oil and gas industry, National Oilwell Varco draws criticism from those who argue that helping oil and gas producers simply perpetuates reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels. With its Health, Safety, and Environmental Management System, though, Varco seeks to help its customers operate safely without threatening health or creating environmental concerns.
Clearly, the company is also vulnerable to a drop in energy production activity. That's a big part of its fairly weak stock performance lately, but with all signs pointing to greater levels of activity around the world, such short-term concerns will likely give way to longer-term supporting trends.
Drill for profits the National Oilwell Varco way
As a key player behind the scenes of the oil and gas industry, National Oilwell Varco plays a vital role in the energy products we all rely on. Even though National Oilwell Varco didn't end up making the Best 25 list, its success in such an important area argues convincingly that the company deserved the distinction of being one of companies that made it into the group of 40 or so finalists in our selection process.
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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of National Oilwell Varco. It also owns shares of Petroleo Brasileiro. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.