Apache Is A Hot Growth Stock At The Current Price

| About: Apache Corporation (APA)

Although the oil and gas market has remained somewhat volatile, there are several good values to be found for investors who are seeking share growth in this sector. These seem to come more so from companies that have maintained steady and diversified production and a conservative approach to debt. In this article, I will discuss why I believe that Apache (NYSE:APA), based on its long history of balanced management style and low debt ratio, could equate to nice profits for its shareholders.

Analyzing Apache

Apache has a long history of growth, achieving annualized production of roughly 13% for the past 20 years. And while 2012 is shaping up to look like Apache will achieve sales growth at closer to 4.5%, this will still provide a profit of more than $10 per share.

This long-term growth is due in large part to the company's balanced management style of taking on less debt than many of its competitors in the field. With a dividend yield of less than 1%, investors have been more rewarded with share growth thanks to Apache's strong and steady annualized production for over the past two decades.

Management at Apache has also made it a practice to reduce additional short- and long-term costs wherever possible. For example, the company has continued to reduce its fracking costs, due in large part to the company's goal of exploring and making good use of newer technologies -- especially those that can be considered at the bit technology, allowing the firm to access data in real time from within the drill hole. In utilizing such technology, fewer tool changes are necessary, which can even lead to the need for fewer wells drilled for obtaining the most possible recovery from currently drilled reservoirs.

Although Apache had a somewhat weaker-than-anticipated second-quarter 2012, the company's market cap holds strong at approximately $35 billion, with a P/E ratio of just below 11 and earnings per share at just slightly under $8.43. This slight drop was considered a result of some disruptions in Apache's overall production, as well as to lower oil and natural gas prices.

With this in mind, the firm has also been careful to balance its exposure to both crude oil and natural gas. And, given its large and geographically diversified reserve base, Apache has reduced its risk to potential price drops even further.

How Other Constituents Stack Up

Investors who seek growth in oil and gas may also want to consider taking a look at CenterPoint Energy (NYSE:CNP). This company boasts a market cap of just under $8.75 billion and a 12-month income of over $775 million. With second-quarter 2012 revenue of $1.87 billion, its quarterly earnings came in above analysts' estimates at $0.27. Thanks to this, the firm's 2012 EPS estimates have been raised to between $1.13 and $1.23.

In addition, although the dividend yield is below 4%, growth is key here as the company's second-quarter 2012 profit was in excess of $125 million, more than $6 million higher than in the same quarter of last year.

Another company that is doing well in the oil and gas arena is SandRidge Energy (NYSE:SD). Although this firm does not offer investors a dividend, the potential profit from growth could prove to outweigh this lack of dividend income. The company's estimated earnings per share of $0.23 for 2013 are up significantly from $0.13 for 2012. In addition, with company management's three-year plan of raising EBITDA to $2 billion, investors could be well rewarded.

American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) is another oil and gas firm for investors to keep a close eye on, as it recently received an order from the Ohio Public Utilities Commission about its modified Electric Security Plan. What this means is that American Electric will be allowed to transition to a market based rate structure that is fully competitive by June 1, 2015. This order played a large part in Bank of America/Merrill Lynch and ISI analysts upgrading the shares.

Unfortunately, for some companies in this sector, the news is not so bright. For example, with the recent announcement by FirstEnergy (NYSE:FE) that its profits declined by 8% in the second quarter of 2012, the company's quarterly and fiscal earnings estimates have both been lowered -- the former from $0.69 to $0.59, and the latter from $3.60 to $3.30 per share.

This decline is likely due in large part to lower revenue at FirstEnergy's regulated distribution segment, as well as from lower sales margins from its competitive operations and an increase in depreciation expenses.

The Bottom Line

Even with the continued volatility in the oil and gas sector, investors can find some nice values in companies that have continued to weather various price and production droughts. Given Apache's second-quarter numbers, I firmly believe that this company's shares could offer a real value for investors -- especially in light of the company's numerous positives, such as its conservative and balanced management approach and continued strong income.

In addition, the firm has maintained a large and geographically diversified base of reserves, as well as a balanced exposure to both natural gas and crude oil. With this company's solid fundamentals, I feel that its shares could be a particularly good buy for short- and long-term growth. This is especially the case if investors can pick up shares of Apache in the low $80 range.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.