It goes without saying that 2014 was a bad year for energy stocks. The collapse in the price of oil was a massive hit that Big Oil couldn't avoid. Because energy companies are so reliant on the price of oil for sustained profitability, the approximately 50% crash in the price of oil last year severely cut into profits industrywide.
As a result, it should come as no surprise that ExxonMobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) suffered from the fallout in the oil market. Shares of ExxonMobil, the biggest energy company in the world, fell 8% last year. This badly lagged behind the 11% gain registered by the S&P 500 Index.
Fortunately, there are a few reasons to believe ExxonMobil will have a better year this time around. Here's why investors should look forward to a better 2015.
The year 2014 not as bad as feared
While ExxonMobil's performance last year was disappointing, it fared better than many other smaller, exploration-and-production-focused companies. ExxonMobil owes its relative outperformance to its integrated structure, which provides valuable stability when oil prices crash. ExxonMobil operates across the upstream and downstream sides of the business. This balance helped the company's profits remain relatively unscathed last year.
ExxonMobil earned $32.5 billion in 2014, flat with the prior year. This is fairly impressive considering the massive rout in oil prices. ExxonMobil cut capital expenditures by 9%, and sold $4 billion of assets during the year. ExxonMobil's huge size allowed it considerable flexibility to cut costs and shed non-critical assets to help maintain cash flow.
This financial flexibility also allows for ExxonMobil to invest heavily in new projects, and the company's impressive portfolio of upstream projects is a key reason why 2015 should be a better year.
New projects set to fuel the future
ExxonMobil completed eight major upstream projects last year, which was a record for the company. This will help the company if and when oil prices finally recover. ExxonMobil added more than 250,000 barrels per day of net capacity, and management believes that these projects are higher margin, which will deliver profitable growth in the years ahead.
One of the most important new projects that ExxonMobil completed last year is the Papua New Guinea liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. This is a huge development that includes liquefaction and storage facilities with capacity of 6.9 million tons per year.
This project will be a huge boost to ExxonMobil because it will allow the company to serve the rapidly growing emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region of the world. The Papua New Guinea project will provide a long-term LNG supply to major customers in Asia, including Sinopec (NYSE:SHI), Osaka Gas Company, and Tokyo Electric Power Company. During the life of the project, expected to last more than 30 years, ExxonMobil estimates that more than nine trillion cubic feet of gas will be produced and sold.
Another major development late last year was the first well at the Arkutun-Dagi field in Russia, which reached target depth in December and first production in January. Early production from the field is expected to reach 90,000 barrels per day, and will bring total gross production at Sakhalin to more than 200,000 barrels per day.
In addition, ExxonMobil made significant advances in the Gulf of Mexico, which is a premier oil-producing area of the United States. Its Lucius project was also completed in December, with first production last month. Gross production from Lucius is expected to be around 80,000 barrels of oil and 150 million cubic feet of natural gas per day once the wells have fully ramped up.
Increasing production should pay off over the long-term
ExxonMobil struggled last year, as virtually all oil and gas companies did due to the crash in oil prices. There was nothing ExxonMobil could do about the price of oil; but investors should be pleased by what the company is doing about the things it can control. Namely, ExxonMobil completed several high-profile projects last year that will significantly add to production in the years ahead.
When oil prices finally recover, these projects will pay huge dividends. That's why, although 2014 was admittedly a disappointment, 2015 will likely be a better year for ExxonMobil shareholders.