Across the oil and gas supermajors, many plan to reduce future capital expenditures. Global economic uncertainties have compelled several integrated majors, including BP (NYSE:BP) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-B), to scrap projects and reduce their spending plans for next year. On the other hand, Chevron (NYSE:CVX) has no such frugality in mind as we near 2014. Chevron's spending plans remain firmly in place, and management believes they will put the company in an advantageous position over the long term. Here's why Chevron is on the right track.
Why continued spending is an advantage
Chevron makes no apologies for its capital expenditure levels, which some analysts see as bloated. For example, Chevron is in the middle of a massive $6.4 billion natural gas project in China. Chevron's efforts in China represent one of its largest capital projects for this year and beyond, and for good reason. China is the world's fourth-largest gas consumer. The total potential of this project is considerable. Chevron secured a 30-year deal to produce 7.6 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and the project should come on-line in the latter part of 2014.
In all, Chevron intends to allocate between $33 billion and $36 billion to capital expenditures next year. Chevron's 2013 spending is already on pace to eclipse the $33 billion projected earlier this year, due to significant land acquisitions. Moreover, the company can't guarantee that its capital expenditures will not increase even further, should the company find new, compelling projects.
Competitors rein it in
Chevron's competitors take a different view of future expenditures. To deal with the likelihood of billions more in penalties resulting from its ongoing civil trial, BP has capped its spending plans for the foreseeable future. The company advises investors it will keep capital expenditures between $24 billion and $27 billion per year through the end of the decade.
Instead, BP has renewed focus on returning cash to shareholders. The company recently increased its dividend and provides an industry-leading 5% dividend yield. To finance this, BP is accelerating the pace of asset sales, which are expected to total $2 billion to $3 billion per year.
Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell advises investors that it's embarking on a prolonged period of capital discipline. Specifically, Shell recently scrapped plans for a gas-to-liquids project in the Gulf of Mexico that would have added 140,000 barrels per day to the company's production. Shell cites uncertainties on oil and gas prices as well as the development cost as its reasons for abandoning the project. In all, net capital investment for 2013 should be around $45 billion, but investors shouldn't expect the company to hit that level in the years ahead.
To compensate investors for the probability of lower growth, BP and Royal Dutch Shell plan to increase share buybacks and dividends going forward. These will be funded primarily with asset sales, but despite the undeniable appeal of hefty cash distributions, investors would be wise to keep their focus on the long-term.
Dividends and buybacks can only get you so far
In the energy world, growth is vital. This can be accomplished through organic investment in new projects and upgrades to infrastructure. Dividends and share repurchases are of course beneficial to shareholders in the short term, but future dividend hikes and buybacks aren't possible without underlying growth.
BP and Royal Dutch Shell provide 5% dividend yields, which are far ahead of Chevron's 3.3% yield. However, Chevron's future looks better, thanks to its continued commitment to investment. While BP and Royal Dutch Shell focus on shedding assets to raise cash, Chevron will proceed, full steam ahead, with projects it considers vital for growth. As a result, Chevron's investors should feel extremely confident about its future.
Bob Ciura owns shares of BP p.l.c. (ADR). The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. 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.