With things bouncing back for oil prices, oil stocks are sitting pretty right now. When Covid-19 first hit, plummeting demand pushed this sector to multi-year lows. But now, as things look brighter, stocks in this space are making a comeback. Bottom-fishers that bought last year may be looking to cash their chips. However, based on some very bullish estimates on future energy prices, there could still be more gains ahead for this rebounding sector.
Why is oil surging back to normal, even as the vaccine-fueled recovery is still getting warmed up? Besides recovery hopes, other factors are playing a role. First, inflationary worries are helping boost the price of commodities like crude oil. Plus, geopolitics are also helping move the needle for crude oil.
Predictions of $100-plus per-barrel prices may be a bit ambitious. Yet, as macro factors improve, the energy sector could continue to rally. You may have missed the first round of rapid gains. But, there’s still opportunity here, as trends continue to shift back in oil’s favor.
So, which oil stocks could make for great buys on the rebound? Let’s take a look at these nine names, spread across various segments of the oil and gas sector:
- BP (NYSE:BP)
- Chevron (NYSE:CVX)
- EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG)
- Halliburton (NYSE:HAL)
- Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO)
- Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY)
- Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX)
- Valero (NYSE:VLO)
- Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM)
Oil Stocks to Consider Buying: BP (BP)
Since November, on the heels of vaccine-fueled optimism, integrated oil stocks like BP stock have made a big comeback. But, despite its recent strong performance, there may be more room for this “big oil” play to run.
Even after being up 75%-plus since its November lows, the British oil giant still remains below its pre-pandemic price levels. Analyst consensus may hold a moderate view of to what extent earnings will rebound in 2021, with average estimated earnings per share (EPS) of $1.72. Yet, with crude oil prices now back above $60, BP may be able to hit the high end of estimates (an EPS of $3.03). This could mean a full recovery in its stock price in the coming months as the “return to normal” narrative plays out.
Admittedly, while oil looks strong right now, there’s always the chance of a pullback. But even so, with the economic environment strengthening instead of weakening, it’s doubtful any sort of selloff will result in a return to last year’s lows. In short, downside risk today is minimal. Just like back in January — when I last discussed BP’s recovery prospects — a path to prices above $30 per share continues for BP stock.
Chevron stock is starting to get closer to its pre-outbreak prices. Now, those who shrewdly bought on weakness could be moving to sell and take profit. But, if you own it, don’t cash your chips in just yet. Like with other big-oil plays, there’s still some gains left on the table.
What’s more, CVX stock doesn’t hinge completely on oil soaring further, rebound hopes, inflationary fears or geopolitics. According to Morgan Stanley’s Devin McDermott, CVX stock is in “good shape” whether oil rebounds further or if it crashes from here. Namely, this is due to the company’s production growth in spite of aggressively cutting its capital spending to conserve cash.
Additionally, higher-than-expected operating synergies from its recent purchase of Noble Energy leave Chevron in a good place. This may result in cash-flow generation that beats Wall Street’s expectations. But there is a caveat: keep an eye on this stock’s relatively high valuation. Right now, it has a forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 23.62 times.
The high expectations priced into Chevron could be a concern. But, while this means you should tread carefully, there may be enough working in the company’s favor to send this pick of the oil stocks closer to 2019 price levels around $120.
EOG Resources (EOG)
Compared to more stable integrated oil & gas companies, pure-play exploration and production (E&P) names like EOG Resources are more volatile. That meant sharp declines when oil prices were cratering. But, it has also meant epic gains on the heels of oil’s stunning rebound.
EOG stock is up about 74% in the past six months. Are shares able to make another big leap near-term? Yes and no. If oil continues to climb, this factor alone may be enough to keep shares on their current upward trajectory.
However, with investors pricing it on it hitting the top end of consensus for next year’s earnings, a pullback in crude oil prices could whip EOG back down from $71 toward prior prices. So, with this concern, why is this one of the first quarter’s winning oil stocks something to keep your eye on in Q2?
Bottom line, buying EOG Resources today is a more general bet on the continuation of crude’s rise, rather than an endorsement of the company’s merits. But, as one of the larger E&P plays — with a solid dividend and reasonably levered balance sheet — it’s a high-quality vehicle for exposure to a possible upward move.
Investors may be anticipating a big recovery for big oil stocks. But that goes double for oil-services names like Halliburton. Literally. Shares have doubled since November. In short, Wall Street is betting big that this hard-hit stock will get back to its old normal.
In general, oil stocks are still pricing in some uncertainty. Unfortunately, though, that’s not the case with HAL stock. Instead, shares are “priced for perfection,” with a high assumption that the company beats expectations in upcoming quarters.
As one Seeking Alpha contributor said in February, shares looked fairly priced at around $20. So, as HAL hovers around $24 per share, is the stock a sell? Based on its forward P/E ratio of 26.43 times, yes. Yet, given that shares will likely climb in tandem with oil, the rebound may not be over for Halliburton.
Lastly, though, you should keep in mind that Halliburton wasn’t exactly doing hot before the outbreak. With the potential for it to not only recover from the pandemic but get over preexisting headwinds, too, this stock looks pricey on a screener. Yet it could continue to perform well on more developments.
Marathon Oil (MRO)
Back in 2020, I called MRO stock an “asymmetric wager” on an oil-price rebound. That is to say, a bet with a potential payoff many times that of its downside risk. Investors had the same idea, bidding it up prematurely in June. But, as the oil and gas sector remained hard-hit, prices plummeted back to prior levels.
However, the story has now changed, as we know full well. Shares are up about threefold since October. Yet, the rapid rebound doesn’t mean take the money and run with this one of the oil stocks. Further gains may be possible from here.
Again, like EOG Resources, you’re basically making a wager on higher crude-oil prices with Marathon. Sure, company-specific decisions will still play a role in potentially pushing the stock higher (or lower). But, by-and-large, most of its fate lies in the hands of the global energy market.
If you are still looking for the potential for outsized returns, though — and if oil continues its epic climb back toward historic highs — Marathon is still a solid investment. Just keep in mind that it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Shares could rally substantially higher if trends continue or crash hard on an oil-price pullback.
Occidental Petroleum (OXY)
Like its E&P peers, last year was tough for Occidental Petroleum. But this company didn’t have to contend with industry-wide headwinds alone. On top of those, the company’s highly leveraged acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum wound up being not only “ill-timed” but a case of biting off more than it could chew.
Yet, after Wall Street exited the stock en-masse — pushing it from around $40 per share down to single digits — those who held their nose and bought this name have seen some gains. In fact, those gains have been outsized, even when compared to other energy stocks.
Up 142% in the past six months alone, can OXY stock continue to deliver for investors? Billionaire investor Carl Icahn may be looking to pare his stake. And, like other top-performing oil stocks in recent months, shares appear to have moved higher than the underlying business improvements may warrant.
So, OXY stock could continue to trend higher on oil prices. But, with things looking overextended here, those who already own it may want to take some profits. And those not in the stock already should consider it a “buy the pullback” opportunity. At today’s prices, it’s nothing you should chase.
Phillips 66 (PSX)
We’ve talked about integrated oil stocks, E&P plays and one oil-services name. Let’s now check into Phillips 66, one of the largest refining and marketing companies out there. The low-demand issues for gasoline in 2020 are dissipating. So, as American gasoline demand returns to some kind of normal, things are looking up for 2021 and beyond.
Yet, as the recovery catalyst becomes fully priced into PSX stock, is it too late to dive in? Given the expectation that earnings will continue to bounce back this year and next, one could argue the recovery narrative hasn’t fully played out yet.
On the other hand, though — while PSX was a cautious buy when Mr. Market didn’t want to do anything with it — being cautious now may also be a wise move. That’s especially true as it’s getting back near pre-pandemic levels. While the vaccine rollout points to rapid recovery in the second half of 2021, it’s too early to say that this optimistic prediction is a certainty.
Yes, a general return to normal will mean a rebound in Phillips 66’s results. But, as we are seeing with more direct-travel recovery plays, the current bullishness may be overdone. Consider this stock — which is sporting a reasonable dividend yield of 4.24% — something to keep on your radar in case of a pullback. Otherwise, stay away for now and focus on oil stocks with a little more meat on the bone.
A major player in the refining and marketing end of the oil business, Valero is another play on the fast rebound in gasoline demand. Since November, shares have rallied from around $40 per share up to around $80. Like with other oil stocks, this is on the expectation that demand will return to normal sometime in 2021.
Again, like with Phillips 66, you can make the argument that this refining stock has moved too far, too fast. Yet, while upward price movements may be less dramatic now that there’s more optimism than pessimism priced into shares, this remains one of the strongest refining plays out there.
As InvestorPlace’s Tom Taulli discussed in January, Valero has financial strength to finance growth (i.e. capital improvement) more cheaply than other refiners. This could give the company an opportunity to thrive, as the refining industry gets out of recent headwinds and into more prosperous conditions.
After performing strongly in late 2020 and in the first quarter of 2021, VLO stock may make slower gains from here. But, with the recovery still in motion, this is definitely a name to watch.
Exxon Mobil (XOM)
Last on my list of oil stocks, Exxon Mobil may be one of the most venerable integrated oil and gas companies. However, when demand for crude oil and refined petroleum products plummeted, its history and high dividend weren’t enough to keep XOM stock investors satisfied.
Fearing the performance of its shares would be worse if it cut or suspended the dividend, Exxon carried on paying it out. But that did little to soften the blow. Dropping from $60 before the outbreak to as low as $30, this former Dow Jones Industrial Average component started to look like a dinosaur on the road to irrelevance.
What a difference an oil price rebound can make. With crude oil back towards normal price levels and investors confident it will have the cash flow to cover its dividend, bullishness has returned for XOM stock. That said, will rising oil prices be enough to send shares — which were already trending lower before Covid-19 — further toward multi-year highs?
Exxon Mobil faces plenty of challenges to get back between $75 and $100. But, as investors realize it will be a long time before the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) totally disrupts big oil, coupled with the specter of higher oil prices, this hard-hit blue chip may be able to continue its recent comeback.
On the date of publication, Thomas Niel did not (either directly or indirectly) hold any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.
Thomas Niel, contributor for InvestorPlace.com, has been writing single-stock analysis for web-based publications since 2016.