The frenetic activity surrounding earnings season has come and gone. From my perspective, perhaps the overarching takeaway from the results reported by the world's oil and gas companies involves the ascendancy of the independent producers, and the nearly across-the-board weakening of the integrated majors.
Perhaps the most convincing examples of this phenomenon lay in the earnings results generated by ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) -- which saw their earnings fall well short of expectations -- compared with, say, EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG). The Houston-based independent producer superstar managed to top year-ago earnings by a whopping 81%, while beating the analysts' consensus forecast by just shy of 20%.
Working close to home
While it conducts some international operations, the real key to EOG's astounding success lies in its management's having planted the core of the company's operations amid the hottest U.S. unconventional oil plays, i.e., the Eagle Ford, the Bakken, and the revitalized Permian Basin. But not inclined to stop there, that same management team has regularly told us about new operating efficiencies that have substantially cut costs while hiking production.
Does this mean that wise investors should completely eschew the cumbersome major integrated oil companies in favor of EOG and its independent producer pals? Previously forlorn Chesapeake, for instance, has managed to tack on about 35% to its share price since mid-April.
How to approach the majors
However, my response to my own query about keeping the majors at arm's length is simply to provide a careful recitation of the obvious: First, I'd be underweighted in the big boys. But second, I'd look to Chevron as my go-to major, because it's a company that includes a number of compelling advantages for those with a thirst for oil and gas.
Let's look at some of the strengths the California company can contribute to energy investors' stock selection processes:
Muscular balance sheet. With more cash (in excess of $20 billion, compared with less than $5 billion at Exxon) than debt, Chevron's management can avail itself of a variety of attractive opportunities for expansion.
All the right places. In addition to being one of the major players in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Chevron is working in such active spots as Angola, Canada, Australia -- where it's the kingpin in mushrooming LNG operations -- and Saudi Arabia, where it's the only major working upstream. It's also avoided southern Iraq (as ExxonMobil wishes it had), thereby staying clear of steadily increasing violence and a divided, inept government. But it's teeing up in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan to the north, where the deals for the companies are far sweeter.
Solid growth plans. Chevron will spend about $37 million on capital projects this year, most of it upstream. That'll likely lead to the forking over of about $184 billion by 2017. The avowed objective: a 3.3 billion daily barrels of oil equivalent production increase over five years.
Technological expertise. The company is one of the industry leaders in the all-important area of technology development. For instance, it's the proud parent of dual-gradient drilling, an admittedly esoteric new wrinkle that increases safety and efficiency in deepwater operations.
Attention to renewables. Chevron isn't only about oil and gas. For instance, its developed a number of solar photovoltaic projects in California that give it a portfolio of about 22 megawatts of generated capacity from more than 128,000 installed panels.
Oilier than most. Despite its major LNG projects down under, Chevron has a more desirable oil-to-gas ratio than do such other majors as Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell. The latter company's second quarter results included a hit from the declining value of its U.S. natural gas assets.
Earnings growth. Chevron has steadily ratcheted up its earnings from $3.57 per share in 2003, to $13.32 in 2012.
Solid dividend payer. The company's forward indicated yield is currently about 3.80%. That compares to 2.90% for ExxonMobil. But, in all fairness, it's less than Shell's 5.30%.
Foolish bottom line
There's a host of other strengths that could be enumerated about Chevron. But you get the picture. Among the major integrated companies, it's tough to find a comparable mix of operating, financial, and technological prowess.