The investment bank named Exxon its top pick among major U.S. oil companies on Monday. Bank of America believes the oil giant's shares could surge almost 50% to $100 in the year ahead.
Exxon's stock has underperformed rival Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and the market as a whole by a wide margin in recent years.
Chevron's greater focus on efficiency in its upstream and downstream operations has helped it generate stronger profits than Exxon -- and better returns for its shareholders.
Last year, however, Exxon announced an ambitious plan to double its earnings and operating cash flow by 2025. At the time, Chairman and CEO Darren Woods said that the energy titan's project pipeline was the strongest it's been in 20 years.
"We've got the best portfolio of high-quality, high-return investment opportunities that we've seen in two decades," Woods said. "Our plan takes full advantage of the company's unique strengths and financial capabilities, using innovation, technology, and integration to drive long-term shareholder value and industry-leading returns."
The plan included heavy investments in shale oil, deepwater, and liquefied natural gas projects that Exxon said would increase its production by 25% to 5 million oil-equivalent barrels per day.
More oil equals more dividends for investors
Bank of America says Exxon's spending is beginning to bear fruit as projects come on line. Moreover, Bank of America analyst Doug Leggate believes Exxon's growth investments place it in a stronger competitive and financial position than its rivals, many of which have pulled back on spending, as oil prices have remained low in recent years.
"We continue to believe a strategy of investing counter to the broader industry investment cycle is reloading growth opportunities at advantaged costs and unlike most peers, creates capacity for ratable dividend growth," Leggate said.
Leggate's expectations for significant dividend growth are noteworthy, as Exxon's stock already yields more than 5% today. As such, increases in its cash payout could certainly help to drive Exxon's stock price higher as income-seeking investors bid up its shares.
Better still, Leggate notes that Exxon's future dividend raises should be supported by corresponding increases in its cash flow production. The energy giant's shareholders would, therefore, be able to rest easy, with the knowledge that their dividend income is well secured.