By Matt Doiron
Studies show that stocks bought by insiders tend to outperform the market. The effect is not particularly strong, but does increase a bit if we consider stocks purchased by multiple insiders (read our analysis of studies on consensus insider purchases). Of course even a consensus of insiders isn't always right, but we think that investors can treat insider optimism similarly to a stock screen: review a list of stocks satisfying the criterion of multiple recent insider purchases, and then pursue any names that have attractive valuation characteristics. We track insider trading filings as well as 13Fs from hedge funds in our database, which we use to develop investment strategies (we have found, for example, that the most popular small-cap stocks among hedge funds generate an excess return of 18 percentage points per year on average). Here are five energy stocks, which multiple insiders have purchased in the last three months:
Thirty billion dollar market cap oil and gas exploration and production company Apache Corporation (NYSE:APA) has had several insiders buy shares since the beginning of 2013, including two in March (at prices in the $73 to $74 range). Apache's earnings were down 44% in the fourth quarter of 2012 versus a year earlier, but Wall Street analysts are projecting that the company will recover and so the trailing and forward P/E multiples are 16 and 8 respectively. Billionaire Ken Griffin's Citadel Investment Group increased its holdings of Apache between October and December to a total of 2.6 million shares (see Griffin's stock picks).
Two company insiders have bought shares of Ultra Petroleum Corp. (NYSE:UPL), a $3 billion market cap oil and gas company. Its assets include primarily natural as acreage in the Green River Basin and the Marcellus Shale. With the natural gas market not doing particularly well, the company's revenue and stock price have been down and the most recent data shows that 16% of the outstanding shares are held short showing that many market players disagree with the insider buyers. Sell-side expectations imply a forward earnings multiple of 11 though that is dependent on significant improvements in Ultra's business.
A company officer and a member of the Board of Directors at Targa Resources Partners LP (NYSE:NGLS) were buying shares in February at prices of about $41 per share. Targa provides gathering, processing, and logistics services for natural gas, natural gas liquids, and oil producers. As with many midstream companies, it pays a high dividend yield: almost 6% judging by current prices and recent dividend payments. Both sales and net income were down over 20% in Targa's most recent quarterly report compared to the same period in the previous year, so we would be wary.
Enbridge Energy Partners, L.P. (NYSE:EEP) had two insiders buy the stock in early March. Enbridge has significant pipeline assets and offers other midstream services including gathering systems. It's another company where the dividend yield looks quite high but recent business conditions (again, we'd point to low natural gas prices in recent quarters as supply has at least temporarily outstripped demand) have resulted in poor financial performance. It doesn't look like a good value either, but the yield is high enough that income investors who aren't already exposed to energy might be interested in seeing how threatened the dividend might be.
Another midstream energy with a high-dividend yield and multiple insiders buying in the last three months is NuStar Energy L.P. (NYSE:NS). NuStar has been making quarterly payments of almost $1.10 per share since the middle of 2011, and had been consistently increasing its dividend before that boost as well. At a price of a little over $53 per share that makes for a very attractive yield of over 8%. Yet again there are concerns about business conditions; even with the high yield, the stock price has fallen 10% in the last year against a rising market as NuStar has consistently missed earnings expectations.