LONDON -- Last week saw BG Group
I think that investors have been caught in a classic growth share trap with BG Group -- and I believe that there is another FTSE 100 (UKX) oil share that could fall even further in the near future.
At BG Group, what really went wrong was that investors' expectations had become divorced from reality -- and the company's third-quarter results made it impossible to ignore this trend any longer.
For several years, investors have kept BG Group's share price simmering on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 15 or more. Given that Royal Dutch Shell
"Jam tomorrow" is a classic growth share characteristic, which implies that future success should justify a share's present price. Until recently, BG Group delivered on its end of the deal, constantly expanding its resource base with new discoveries and ramping up production each year.
That's all changed. BG Group's production is now expected to grow by just 3% this year and is expected to be flat in 2013. Production forecasts have been downgraded due to new production taking longer to come online than expected, deferring it into future financial years.
In comparison to the savage sell-off inflicted on BG Group, markets were quite calm last week when BP
Writing on the wall
Although the City made much of its surprise over BG's downgraded production forecasts, in reality the writing has been on the wall for some time, and I think that BG Group is simply starting the transition from growth into maturity -- a process that will require its price to fall or its earnings to rise.
In BG's half-yearly report, the 2012 production exit rate was lowered from 750 kboe/d to 720 kboe/d and in a corporate presentation at the start of this year, BG made clear that production would fall between now and 2020 if its big new assets -- Brazil, Australia, and the U.S. -- were excluded. It's these big new assets that are suffering delays, deferring future production increases until at least 2014.
Given this information, flat production in 2013 shouldn't really have been a big surprise -- but City analysts were betting on a more positive result and so were their fund manager clients, until last week.
The next big faller
At the start of the article, I mentioned that I think there is another big oil share that could also be due for a painful rerating, as it leaves corporate youth behind and approaches middle age.
Growing a company like Tullow or BG is all about exploration success and production growth -- and Tullow has delivered in spades. Its exploration success rate is one of the best in the business and it managed to grow production by 35% last year.
A turning point?
This kind of production growth won't last forever and each successive discovery has to be bigger than the last in order to move the needle for investors. Tullow shares currently trade on a stratospheric 32 times last year's earnings. However, earning per share are forecast to grow by only 7% this year and 5% in 2013 -- a big drop from the huge gains seen in recent years.
Like BG Group, Tullow's dividend yield is very low -- below 1% at present -- so unlike BP and Shell, which provide yields between 4% and 5%, there is no reason to hold Tullow shares for income unless you bought them many years ago, at much lower prices.
I think that Tullow is likely to suffer a dramatic rerating of its share price at some point in the next year or so as its growth slows. BG Group is now being talked of as a takeover target and the same thing could happen to Tullow, should its market cap fall far enough.
Getting ahead of the game
Investors who bought shares in BG and Tullow when they were still small companies have made massive profits from their investments over a short period -- and this wasn't just down to luck.
Small oil and gas companies with hidden value and great prospects have a number of things in common, which you can easily recognize when you know what to look for.
In the latest free report from the Motley Fool, "How to Unearth Great Oil and Gas Shares," you can learn exactly how to make massive profits by identifying companies like Tullow Oil before they hit the big time.
This report shows you how to identify junior oil and gas shares with big growth potential and explains how to construct a portfolio of small cap oil and gas shares that minimizes your risk.
If investing in oil shares interests you, then I would strongly recommend that you download your free copy now, as availability is strictly limited.
Oils, Pharmaceuticals, Banks, Telecoms -- just where should you invest today? "Top Sectors of 2012" is the Motley Fool's latest guide to help Britain invest. Better. The report is free.
Further investment opportunities:
Roland Head owns shares in Royal Dutch Shell but does not own shares in any of the other companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.