In tough economic times, few things are as important as energy. While most folks have been quite relieved about the dropping price of gasoline, one group might not be as thrilled: those who own oil and gas stocks like Chevron (CVX).
However, while oil prices are low right now, that doesn't mean you should shy away from energy companies, and Chevron in particular could be poised for steady growth. Currently trading at around $100, the oil and gas giant is currently getting a significant amount of positive buzz. Most recently, the company announced it was on track with construction of a significant ethylene plant, which there is huge demand for right now.
Furthermore, if you've watched television at all the past few months, you've undoubtedly seen the commercials put out by Chevron that emphasize its commitment to improving the math and science scores of American students. While commercials like these are obvious grabs at positive public relations, I actually think the direction they take could be quite important for the company going forward, especially in a time where oil companies have become increasingly demonized by the public, which was greatly exacerbated by BP's (BP) Gulf oil disaster. Taking these things into consideration, I am quite confident in the strength of Chevron going forward.
If successful, Chevron's ethylene plant would actually be the first completed in the country in over 10 years. And given skyrocketing demand for plastics, the company could be poised to reap significant profits. Currently, Chevron is in a race of sorts of competitors Dow Chemical (DOW) and Exxon Mobil (XOM) to finish production of the plant. If Chevron is able to do so first, it will have a significant advantage over its competitors. Chevron Phillips CEO Peter Cella touted the fact that his company was on track to be the first to complete its plant in a recent interview with Bloomberg.
"I think [being on track to finish first] will serve us well if the set of circumstances comes about that there is a tight labor market," Cella said. "Thanks to the development of this new resource base previously locked up in shale rock, there is a new optimism that has spread across the entire chemical industry."
Going forward, one could envision Chevron being the energy company that leads the way for an optimistic future for the world's energy supply. If you ask investors right now, that might not be too far-fetched. In fact, when asked, 96 percent of Motley Fool investors said they thought Chevron would do better going forward than the S&P 500. In addition, many others are pretty bullish on Chevron right now. Citing the fact that Chevron was just given the go-ahead to develop shale gas in profitable areas in Eastern Europe, as well as its partnership to invest in Myanmar with General Electric (GE), one analyst believes Chevron could rise 23 percent immediately. So clearly, there is a lot of buzz around Chevron right now, and investors would be wise to take notice. But buzz is just that, buzz. Is Chevron actually on track to do as well as these folks believe? Well, last year its stock rose 17 percent, better than Exxon Mobil. Also, the company offers very competitive dividends, making it clear that it values its investors.
But in addition to more tangible things like shale fields and ethylene plants, Chevron is succeeding quite well in an area that is more subjective: public relations. It's no secret that oil companies are not the most popular companies in the world. Many look at spills like BP's and other environmental issues faced by energy companies and want nothing to do with them. Some people see energy companies as gigantic corporations that will stop at nothing, including environmental degradation, to increase their profits. Regardless of one's opinion of companies like Chevron, it is undeniable that there is a huge role for public relations in managing the opinions of the general public (and lawmakers, especially). This is why where other companies like BP have failed, Chevron is succeeding due to its sharp focus on associating the Chevron brand with innovative efforts to increase the math and science scores of young Americans.
Most recently, Chevron announced a three-year deal with the United States Golf Association to sponsor its annual U.S. Open tournament. The tournament is one of the biggest in golf, and the move echoes a trend Chevron has undertaken to emphasize its belief in innovating education. Specifically, Chevron will work with other sponsors to educate the public about some of the "scientific" aspects of golf, such as the slopes of greens and the velocity of golf shots.
In general, the commercials put out by Chevron recently drive home this emphasis on education, which I think is a great move. The company is thus able to portray itself as innovators who use science and math as tools to improve our lives, which is why the company has a vested interest in promoting education in the United States. Unlike a lot of PR moves by companies, this does not come off as phony, because it's plausible to believe the company truly does want to improve science and math education in the U.S., as it is an American company that relies on Americans to work for it. Compared with other energy companies, Chevron seems to have the best strategy to deal with its image problem.
Energy companies will certainly have to emphasize innovation going forward, and I think Chevron is poised to be at the forefront. Given its recent success in ethylene and shale gas, as well as what I believe to be a strong public relations strategy, I would strongly recommend investing in Chevron.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.