As a shareholder, I have been disappointed by Chevron's (NYSE:CVX) performance during the past year. In comparison to peers ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.B), Chevron's shares have underperformed by around 5%. This figure doesn't include dividend payouts -- with Shell's hefty 5% yield, it is likely that Chevron's underperformance could be even higher.
However, there are signs on the horizon that Chevron could be getting ready for a growth spurt, and with the company now trading at a trailing P/E of 10.2, compared to Exxon's and Shell's ratios of 12.8 and 14.4 respectively, it looks as if, for those who are prepared to wait, good things could be on the horizon.
What's coming up for Chevron?
The reason behind Chevron's poor share performance during the past few quarters has been the company's slumping earnings. Indeed, the company's fiscal fourth quarter results, released only a few weeks ago, revealed a 31% drop in income and a 7% slump in revenues. These slumping earnings were in part due to higher costs, lower production, and lower refining margins.
Still, even though Chevron is grappling with falling profits across its operational base, the company has a number of huge projects coming on-line in the near future. The four largest developments include the Gorgon and Wheatstone liquefied natural gas developments in Australia, and the Jack/St Malo and Big Foot deepwater oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico. In total, these projects will add 500,000 barrels per day to Chevron's existing production. According to the Financial Times, Chevron's management believes that as these projects come online they will give a much-needed boost to flagging cash flows, helping the company cover its unsustainably high capital expenditure budget.
Further, Chevron is seeking to reduce its involvement in expensive 'megaprojects,' pulling out of those that seem expensive, instead favoring projects with more bang for the buck -- quality not quantity. "Belt-tightening" is another phrase being used repeatedly by Chevron's management as they seek to boost company performance.
Peers are not so active
Chevron is pushing hard to increase its production, but peers Exxon and Shell don't seem to be targeting such rapid growth. In particular, Shell is concentrating more on selling assets to pay for its rising capital spending rather than driving growth.
Sadly, this is exactly the opposite strategy that Shell should be pursuing, as the company has really underperformed on a production basis during the past few years. While the company's capital spending has risen from an annual $27 billion during 2007, to $44.3 billion for 2013, the company's profits have fallen, and so have returns and free cash flow. What's more, Shell's management is currently undershooting expectations, as they stated back during 2012 that the group will generate $200 billion of operating cash flow in the four years through 2016. So far, the company has only managed $40 billion, it needs to improve this if it wants to meet its target.
Elsewhere, Exxon, which saw its production tick down by 1.8% during 2013 has missed the U.S. shale oil boom, thanks in part to the company's conservative approach to exploration, favoring multi-billion dollar projects on field that are likely to produce for decades to come.
All in all, it would appear that Chevron is set for a production boost over the next few years, which should improve the company's flagging earnings. In comparison, peers Exxon and Shell are not targeting the same kind of growth and are still messing around with larger, longer-term megaprojects, as well as divesting assets to bolster cash flows. With this in mind, perhaps Chevron could be the best play on oil for investors looking for growth.