What: Shares of Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE:CNQ) were scorching hot in March, jumping more than 25% thanks to three big fuels: oil, earnings, and analysts.
So what: We'll start with oil, which enjoyed its best month in nearly a year after it jumped 14%. Fueling crude's rally were continued reports that OPEC and Russia were working together on a coordinated production freeze to help put a firm bottom on oil's price.
While the rising tide of oil prices lifted all boats, Canadian Natural Resources' stock also benefited from its fourth-quarter earnings and an update to its 2016 plans. Its earnings were actually a bit weak, with the company losing $0.04 per share, which was $0.03 per share worse than the consensus estimates. That said, it gave a bullish view on the future. While the company lowered its 2016 capex budget by 22%, it laid out a longer-term plan that will see capex continue to slide while its free cash flow increases, even if oil prices don't rise all that much, thanks to two upcoming expansions to its Horizon oil sands project. These expansions, according to the company, will enable it to generate C$865 million of free cash flow in 2017 at a US$43 oil price, with its free cash flow growing to C$2.1 billion in 2018 at a US$45.50 oil price.
This bullish multiyear update was praised by analysts at J.P. Morgan, which upgraded the stock from neutral to overweight. That upgrade came after the stock surged 24% in the prior five days, leading J.P. Morgan to also raise its price target from C$28 to C$40.
The bank noted that Canadian Natural Resources has a top-tier sustaining capex profile and the ability to flex its balance sheet within its target leverage range during this period of higher spending and lower oil prices. As such, it's right up there with fellow Canadian heavyweight Suncor Energy (NYSE:SU), which also has the financial capacity to continue to invest in major growth projects that won't deliver first oil until next year. These growth projects have Canadian Natural Resources and Suncor Energy very well positioned to cash in after next year, even if oil prices remain weak.
Now what: Canadian Natural Resources is right in the middle of a major transition. It's one that J.P. Morgan likes very much, believing that Canadian Natural Resources still has a lot of room to run in spite of the fact that the stock spiked last month.