Hess (NYSE:HES) seems to be one of the forgotten stories of America's energy boom. Sure, its stock more than doubled the return of the S&P 500 in 2013. But that had more to do with activist investors than its position in the Bakken Shale and Gulf of Mexico.
Looking ahead to 2014, Hess is a name investors should get to know. The company is working to complete its repositioning plan. Once it does it can put all of its focus on its oil-rich growth opportunities. Let's take a closer look at what it has left to do and what investors can expect going forward.
In 2013, Hess sold nearly $6.5 billion worth of assets, which is quite a sum for a $27.5 billion company by market cap. That said, the company still has some work to do. It still needs to close the sale of its terminal assets as well as its Indonesian operations. Further, it's still looking for a buyer for its retail gas station business.
Hess' retail gas station business is drawing a lot of attention. According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, private-equity owned BJ's Wholesale Club is interested in the more than 1,300-store chain. Another potential buyer is Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:MCP). Its CEO, Gary Heminger, recently said that Hess has "one of the best-looking retail chains in the Eastern seaboard." Heminger also said "it would be an excellent fit with Speedway," which Marathon Petroleum is seeking to grow in order to offset some of the volatility at its refining operations.
Hess has suggested that it might pursue the spin-off of its retail assets as opposed to selling them. That move worked out well for Valero (NYSE:VLO) as both its stock and that of its retail arm rose following the spin. That move could end up creating more value as it would enable Hess to avoid taxes, while also enabling it to be a bit more creative with its balance sheet.
Oil-rich growth opportunities
Until Hess makes a final decision on its gas station business, the company won't be able to completely focus on its oil-rich growth. One of its top areas of growth is in North Dakota. Hess actually first discovered oil in the state all the way back in 1951 and it first started producing in 1957. But it wasn't until the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing came along that it was able to unlock the vast oil resource sitting underneath its acreage. The company is now the third-largest oil producer in the state. Hess has plenty of room to grow as it recovers the more than billion barrels of oil equivalent under its 640,000 net acres. Further, it expects its Bakken operations to be free-cash-flow positive in 2015.
Hess, however, is more than just the Bakken. The company has an emerging position in the Utica Shale with 95,000 net acres of its own and another 65,000 net acres as part a 50% joint venture with CONSOL Energy (NYSE:CNX). The company sees the Utica offering material growth potential starting in 2015 and beyond. The CONSOL venture will be an interesting area to watch as well after CONSOL decided that it wanted to focus on growing its natural gas production as opposed to a balanced approach of gas and coal.
Finally, Hess has solid oil growth potential in the Gulf of Mexico. The company should see some of that potential being realized after its Tubular Bells project begins producing in the third quarter of 2014. Further, the company and its partners are expected to make a final investment decision on the Stampede project next year. Beyond that, Hess has a number of potential opportunities from its vast portfolio of exploration acreage in the deepwater of the Gulf.
There's no doubt about it, 2014 will be a big year for Hess. But it's really more of a transitional year for the company as 2015 is when the company should really hit its stride. That's why investors don't need to rush out and buy Hess today but instead should keep an eye on the company and look to see if it goes on sale before the big year it has planned in 2015.
Fool contributor Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.