Investors in Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) stock had a great 2021.
In fact, Exxon Mobil stock is up 47% year-to-date. That’s better than Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and nearly equal to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).
The stock is powered by rising oil prices. West Texas Intermediate, the primary U.S. grade of oil, is trading at $73 per barrel. It was at $48 in January. It will likely rise over Christmas as the last week’s draw on reserves was higher than predicted.
Despite this, XOM stock remains a bargain for income investors. The dividend yields 5.96%. The market cap is $256 billion. That’s still short of Disney (NYSE:DIS) and less than one-tenth that of Apple. As recently as 2013, Exxon Mobil was the world’s most valuable company.
XOM Stock: Big Oil Doubling Down
While European oil giants like Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A, NYSE:RDS.B) and BP (NYSE:BP) backed away from oil production over the last 5 years, Exxon Mobil doubled down.
It doubled its production in Texas’ Permian Basin. It keeps finding more oil off Guyana in South America. The company now produces over 2.3 million barrels of oil each day. It refines 1.9 million barrels per day in the U.S.
During the pandemic, while oil prices fell, Exxon Mobil took on $21 billion in new debt. The 2021 oil spike let it reduce that by $17 billion in 2021. It plans $20 billion to $25 billion in capital spending each year through 2027, as well as stock buybacks and a rising dividend.
Despite the stock’s gains, 2021 was tough for Exxon Mobil management. It lost a fight over directors with Engine No. 1, an activist group focused on sustainability, including a tilt toward renewable energy. That group now says it wants to “constructively engage” with management, aiming to cut carbon emissions while maintaining profits.
The first move in that direction may be the sale of 5,000 natural gas wells to a driller called Presidio. That would make sense because natural gas prices have recently headed down.
How Long Can This Keep Going On?
The image of “big oil” is like that of “big tobacco” 20 years ago.
But when Exxon Mobil talks about being sustainable, it’s talking about itself, not the planet. During the last decade’s boom, Exxon Mobil prioritized investment. This time it’s prioritizing the dividend.
Exxon Mobil was one of the big bidders at a recent sale of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s bidding for new leases off Brazil. It continues work on a new project in Vietnam. It also signed a gas deal off Cyprus.
TipRanks has 15 analysts following Exxon Mobil, with six saying you should buy it, six just saying hold it, and three saying sell. The most recent downgrade was by BNP Paribas. They put an underperform rating on the stock in early October, with a price target of $60 per share. Since then, shares are up 2.5%.
The Bottom Line on XOM Stock
The energy transition is underway. Exxon Mobil can’t stop it.
But the company can still make money on it and share the wealth with investors. Exxon Mobil has set a $10 billion stock buyback program. The dividend has been raised to 88 cents.
The chip shortage is slowing the march of electric cars. Electric car companies are still focused on the luxury segment of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) rather than the mass market. It’s easy to see Exxon continuing to deliver high dividends through 2025.
Dividends and oil are both out of fashion. But if you’re looking for income next year, then XOM stock should be the first place you look.
On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held long positions in AAPL and MSFT. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial journalist since 1978. His latest book is Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, essays on technology available at the Amazon Kindle store. Follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn.