Big oil has been the target of media malevolence ever since the price of gasoline began its upward spiral more than a month ago. Everything from corporate greed, to Iran, to subsidies, to the policies of the current administration, and the declining value of the dollar have been cited as the culprit. The fact is, the fault doesn't lie with any one of these factors, but a combination of many-- something of a 'perfect storm' if you will.
The most maligned of all the big oil companies is Exxon Mobil (XOM). Exxon had the dubious distinction of being the largest publicly traded oil company in the world in terms of oil production. I say 'had' because China's PetroChina (PTR) usurped the throne quite recently.
The real question is, "What does all this mean for Exxon shareholders?" The short answer is, "Nothing." Exxon is an excellent stock, a world class enterprise and it has a great earnings future. Let's look at the fundamentals. Exxon has a market cap of around $409 billion. It trades at just above 10 times trailing twelve month earnings, has a price to earnings growth ratio of 1.48 and a price to book of 2.64. So far, Exxon meets every definition of a value stock. Return on equity is a commendable 26.93%, quarterly year-over-year revenue and earnings growth were 15% and 1.60% respectively.
Exxon's financial position is sound and reflected in a debt to equity ratio of 10.60 and a current ratio of 0.94. You can also count on a dividend yielding 2.2%, and the payout ratio of 22% suggests you can count on it for years to come. Oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power will be running the economic engine of the United States and the world for the foreseeable future... no matter what the pundits, politicians and talking heads tell you. Renewable energy just isn't up to the challenge...not yet! That said, let's take a look at the 'pretender' to the throne.
PetroChina has a market cap of about $263 billion. It trades at about 12 times trailing twelve month earnings, has a price to earnings growth ratio of 1.21 and a price to book of 1.66. Not bad...so far! PetroChina's return on equity is 15.49%, while quarterly year-over-year revenue and earnings come in at 46.10% and 7.80%, respectively. The debt to equity and current ratios are reported as 29.64 and 0.78 respectively. Recognizing that quarterly revenue and earnings growth numbers are but a snapshot in time, I peeked at the income statements. It was immediately apparent that the robust quarterly year-over-year revenue and earnings growth that PetroChina reports are the result of unusually weak performance in the prior year.
The earnings trend for Exxon is significantly more impressive than that of PetroChina. For example, net income for Exxon showed a 57.99 percentage change from 2009 to 2010, while PetroChina's percentage change for the same period was 46.61%, more than 10% below Exxon's. Couple this with the fact that PetroChina's oil is consumed within China. Since it is not exported or otherwise affected by the realities of the world market, how meaningful are PetroChina's numbers? In short, can we really make an apple to apple comparison of Exxon to PetroChina, a state run, 81% state owned oil company that produces zero oil for the global market? I am of the opinion that we cannot. That's why I am bullish on Exxon and see little threat from PetroChina.
Exxon, in concert with BP (BP), and ConocoPhillips (COP), have finally resolved differences with the Alaskan government over a North Slope oil and gas lease. As a result, the $40 billion project to export gas from Alaska to Asia is moving forward. A new pipeline will be constructed, along with a liquid natural gas terminal, to facilitate the export of gas to the Asian market. It doesn't take much imagination to envision the kinds of returns this investment will mean. We are talking 35 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves here. Expect these stocks to soar when the plan reaches fruition!
Although it is still dealing with image and financial ramifications from the Gulf oil spill, BP, has some impressive fundamentals like a trailing twelve month price to earnings ratio of 5.58, a price to earnings growth ratio of 1.34, a price to book of 1.26, a return on equity of 25.5%, solid quarterly year-over-year revenue and earnings growth ( 17.1% and 44.6% respectively), and an excellent debt to equity position of 39.31. The current ratio is also solid, coming in at 1.16. These great numbers continue with a dividend yield of 3.9% against a very modest payout ratio of 21%.
Competing Conoco is no slouch either, with a price to earnings ratio of 8.47, a price to earnings growth ratio of 1.93 and a price to book of 1.49. Conoco's return on equity is an acceptable 18.54%. Quarterly year-over-year revenue and earnings growth are well into positive territory at 17.7% and 66.1% respectively. Like Exxon and BP, Conoco has a strong and stable financial base as reflected in a debt to equity ratio of 40.98 and a current ratio of 1.08. Conoco also pays shareholders a respectable dividend yielding 3.5% and this dividend is demonstrably stable with a payout ratio of 29%.
As we move toward natural gas to fuel an increased percentage of our energy needs, our major oil and gas companies are well-positioned and Exxon is positioned better than most. No algae, ethanol, wind or solar solution is on the horizon to displace fossil fuels in transportation. Natural gas represents the necessary segway to the future, and is the most logical alternative to gasoline and diesel fuel. That's why I am bullish on Exxon.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.