By Gordon Wilcox
Investors who were alive and following oil stocks in 2010 know that offshore oil exploration is, well, kind of controversial. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill reminded us of that fact. Problems for Chevron (CVX) and Transocean (RIG) in Brazil recently merely serve to reiterate the notion that offshore oil exploration is a dangerous, expensive and risky endeavor.
Still, offshore exploration is here to stay and that means the world's energy giants will be going to some less-than-inviting locales in the coming years in search of new oil reserves.
Some say the easy onshore oil has already been found. That might be true, but the Canadian oil sands and the various U.S. shale plays show there is still plenty of crude to be harvested onshore. With that, let's have a look at four energy stocks that are heavy in the safer, but less sexy, onshore game.
Occidental Petroleum (OXY): Any discussion involving onshore drilling and major oil companies must include Occidental Petroleum for the simple reason that the fourth-largest U.S. oil company does NOT drill offshore at all. As we noted earlier this year, Occidental is a major player in California's Monterey Shale. Plus, Occidental is a reliable dividend payer and raiser as its payout has more than doubled since 2006 alone. With an average price target of over $115, OXY may be a value play at current levels.
Hess (HES): Hess is one of the dominant companies in the Bakken Shale, that prime piece of real estate that has turned North Dakota into an economic wonder among U.S. states. With a paltry dividend, Hess is basically a growth stock although the company's age is not befitting of growth status. Investors seeing value in the stock would do well to wait a bit because the Hess chart is an absolute mess. Increased Libyan production could help Hess and Occidental next year.
Devon Energy (DVN): In 2010, the big question regarding Devon was “Is this company the smartest - or luckiest - in the energy sector?” What we mean is that before the Gulf spill, Devon had announced plans to divest its offshore and international assets to focus solely on the North American onshore market. Devon has more than $3 billion in cash and some of that will be used for share repurchases. Added to that, the company has its hands in several of the major U.S. shale plays.
Chesapeake Energy (CHK): It's hard to have a shale conversation without including Chesapeake, the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer. However, it's hard to get excited about this stock. At the moment, that is. Shares of Chesapeake have been in a tailspin lately, but the company holds a very lucrative chip in the form of vast Utica Shale acreage. Arguably, Utica isn't fully priced into Chesapeake shares.
The stock closed below $23 Friday, but price targets range from $32 to $49 and there's the looming spinoff of the company's oil services unit to consider as well.
Action Items Traders that are bullish on a 2012 energy resurgence should consider the following trades: Long Chesapeake, long the First Trust ISE-Revere Natural Gas Index Fund (FCG) and long the SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (XOP).
Traders that are bearish on energy stocks should consider the following ideas: Long the ProShares Ultra DJ-UBS Crude Oil (UCO), long puts on XOP and short Chesapeake.
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Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.