U.S. shale oil stocks seem hot again. Oil prices are rising. Production, particularly in the Permian basin, is rising as a result. With energy stocks across the board having a rough 2018, investors have found many stocks to buy in the sector in 2019.
The gains may not be over, either. The bidding war for Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC) between Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) shows that oil majors see value in U.S. shale, especially in the Permian. And it seems to signal a likelihood of more M&A in the region — and more upside for U.S. shale stocks.
There are risks here. It was only a few months that WTI crude prices were in the $40s and shale oil stocks looked left for dead. The economy likely needs to cooperate, and shale stocks already have made some gains. That said, valuations remain reasonable, and there’s room for sentiment toward shale to improve further. If it does, these 7 oil stocks should be stocks to buy.
Pioneer Resources (PXD)
Pioneer Resources (NYSE:PXD) has rallied on the Anadarko news and with good reason. The thesis is simple: the acquisition of Anadarko is the first of many, as Bloomberg detailed. Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A,RDS.B) may be interested in making a big splash in the Permian Basin in particular. If they are, Pioneer would be a natural fit.
Pioneer has the same Permian focus as Anadarko. Per the company’s respective 10-K filings, proved total reserves are nearly identical. If an acquirer were to pay the same price per barrel for PXD as Oxy is offering for APC, PXD would be valued at about $200, some 17% upside.
The rally in PXD shares of late perhaps limits the upside in a takeover. But there’s still some room for Pioneer shares to keep gaining — particularly if crude prices continue to rise.
Concho Resources (CXO)
The other speculated M&A target is Concho Resources (NYSE:CXO). Like Pioneer, Concho has a heavy presence in the Permian, with reserves in both the Delaware and Midland Basins. And Concho actually has greater proved reserves than Anadarko or Pioneer — yet it trades at a similar valuation, including the companies’ respective borrowings.
As such, CXO might be a more interesting play on M&A at the moment. It hasn’t bounced quite as much as PXD since the Anadarko deal was announced. In fact, CXO stock still trades almost 25% off October highs. Valuation on an earnings basis looks reasonable as well.
It does seem like Concho hasn’t received quite as much attention as other similarly-sized shale plays — which might make it a more attractive target for the majors, or portend more upside if the group continues to rally.
Cimarex Energy (XEC)
The case for Cimarex Energy (NYSE:XEC) is that XEC stock really hasn’t benefited all that much from shale optimism so far this year — yet it probably should have. The $7 billion market cap company has only seen its stock rise 15% this year — about half the gains of PXD.
That’s despite the fact that Cimarex posted a blowout Q4, handily beating analyst estimates. In addition, Cimarex made a seemingly well-timed deal back in November, acquiring Permian-play Resolute Energy, adding to its reserves in the sought-after play at a price that probably wouldn’t be available at the moment.
Given its size, Cimarex might not be as attractive for the majors, in part because it’s simply not quite large enough to move the needle for a company the size of Exxon or Shell. Its more gas-heavy reserves also limit its benefits from higher crude oil prices.
But Cimarex still could be a consolation prize for Occidental, or a way for other larger Permian players to bulk up. With valuation cheap at barely 8x earnings estimates, an earnings boost from Resolute on the way, and solid execution of late, XEC stock should catch up to other shale oil stocks in the coming months.
Callon Petroleum (CPE)
Callon Petroleum (NYSE:CPE) represents an intriguing small-cap play on Permian growth. CPE stock looks cheap, at less than 7x forward earnings. A recent sale of non-core assets brought in $260 million in cash, allowing the company to pay off preferred stock — and to end the 10% interest payments.
Yet investors have mostly shrugged. CPE shares are down over 35% from early October highs. The stock has rallied in recent weeks, but the valuation clearly shows there’s more room for upside ahead.
Even with the asset sale, debt still is an issue: CPE remains a high-risk, high-reward play. But that’s not a bad thing if Permian growth continues. If oil keeps rising, and Permian plays keep getting hotter, Callon’s debt will act as leverage for the share price — and could make CPE one of the biggest gainers in shale stocks.
Diamondback Energy (FANG)
Diamondback Energy (NASDAQ:FANG) is another Permian player that could be an acquisition target. Dana Blankenhorn detailed the case for FANG stock back in February at $105. A few dollars higher, the argument actually looks better. Crude oil prices are higher. That’s good news for Diamondback’s operations, particularly as it integrates recent acquisitions of Energen and Ajax Resources for a combined $10 billion-plus.
Valuation looks attractive, at 12x forward earnings, and cost savings from the acquisitions should provide earnings benefits in 2020 and beyond. FANG has rallied about 10% in recent sessions, but still sits at a sharp discount to 2018 levels. The combination of higher oil prices, better margins, and M&A potential makes FANG one of the more intriguing mid-sized producers in the Permian.
Oil services stock Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) has struggled amid a worldwide oil crunch. The stock touched an eight-year low in December. Even a 13% gain so far this year largely came in the first few sessions. Higher crude prices of late have done little so far for HAL stock.
There’s an argument to just leave HAL stock alone — particularly for investors betting on higher crude prices. It’s potentially easier to simply buy producers who have direct leverage to oil prices. And shale weakness has been a problem not just for Halliburton, but for a rival like Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), who called out shale weakness as pressuring its first quarter results.
Even with those risks in mind, however, there’s an intriguing case for HAL stock here. The stock is cheap, at 14x forward earnings. For its part, Halliburton management called a bottom in shale on its Q1 conference call this week. And Halliburton has greater exposure proportionally to shale than SLB or even Baker Hughes, a GE company (NYSE:BHGE). With shale strength — and M&A hopes — being priced into some of the producers in the region, servicer HAL may be next in line for a rally.
Hi-Crush Partners LP (HCLP)
So-called ‘frac sand’ providers like Hi-Crush Partners LP (NYSE:HCLP) were among the biggest victims of the shale bust a few years back. HCLP stock trades modestly above $4 at the moment; it cleared $60 back in 2014. And that performance isn’t even the worst in the category. Emerge Energy Services LP (NYSE:EMES) was valued above $4 billion that year; it appears headed for a restructuring, with shareholders getting zero.
Shale frackers have pivoted to cheaper sands, as even Halliburton detailed on its Q1 call. That’s led to lower revenue and profits — and in the case of HCLP, raised concerns about the company’s debt load.
Even if fracking continues to grow, those shifts may continue, and HCLP could continue to struggle. This a hugely high-risk play. But the potential rewards are enormous as well. HCLP traded at similar levels back in 2016 — by the beginning of 2017 the stock was near $20. If Hi-Crush can again reverse current declines, it could see a repeat of those gains.
In the meantime, there’s another potential catalyst, as Hi-Crush looks to convert from a limited partnership to a C-corporation, making individual share ownership easier. The dividend yield will come down after that conversion — the currently reported 21%+ yield is not sustainable — but a simpler HCLP may be a more attractive HCLP.
Investors shouldn’t put capital into HCLP that they can’t afford to lose. The travails of EMES show how cyclical the sector can be, and how quickly share prices can turn south. But the performance of HCLP off the 2016 bottom shows the rewards are potentially huge as well.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.