While natural gas prices still remain somewhat weak, Exxon Mobil (XOM) -- the largest natural gas producer in the U.S. after its acquisition of XTO Energy in 2010 -- is still going strong. The company is so diversified that little glitches in natural gas prices leave the company virtually unaffected.
Although the company has a presence in many parts of the world, Exxon Mobil is careful in where it invests money for profitable plays. Though the company had expressed an interest in a lucrative play in Afghanistan, the company may be shying away from the deal, possibly because of fears of conflict in the area. The company had expressed an interest in July in the Afghan Tajik basin, which holds an estimated 1.9 billion barrels of oil. Because of the country's large supply of gold, copper, iron ore, and oil, Chinese and Indian companies are reported to be very interested, and it was hoped that Exxon Mobil and other U.S. majors would take part in setting up shop there.
But Exxon Mobil continues to invest in smart, safe plays that keep investors happy. Recently, the company agreed to buy Denbury Onshore's (DNR) assets in the Bakken Shale for $1.6 billion in cash, along with operating interests in the Hartzog Draw field in Wyoming and Webster field in Texas. This agreement will expand Exxon Mobil's acreage in the Bakken to over 600,000 acres while increasing its production in the region by over 15,000 oil equivalent barrels per day during the second half of 2012. In addition to the exploration and production of oil and natural gas properties in the Gulf Coast region, Denbury (through its Jackson Dome carbon dioxide (CO2) source in Mississippi) sells CO2 to third-party industrial users under long-term contracts.
With such as wide scope of products and service, Exxon Mobil also continues to grow by investing in the development of better products. The company recently announced the expansion of its lubricant plant in Louisiana. It will spend over $200 million to expand its Baton Rouge chemical and lubricants plants to raise capacity for synthetic lubricant base stocks manufacturing and lubricants blending, packaging and storage. This will increase global capacity of synthetic esters and alkylated naphthalene by more than 25% to help meet demand for high-performance lubricants. This project will make the company's Baton Rouge complex the world's largest producer of synthetic esters and alkylated naphthalene. These are products used by producers and marketers of a wide variety of lubricants that include vehicle motor oils, gear oils and greases, and specialized lubricants for aviation, marine and industrial applications.
Exxon Mobil reported second-quarter 2012 earnings of $1.80 per share, and reported annual 2011 earnings of $8.42 per share. The company had second-quarter 2012 revenues of $127.36 billion, 2.67% above the prior year's second-quarter results. It had revenues for the full year 2011 of $486.43 billion, 26.93% above the prior year's results. Not surprisingly, this major also reported revenues up 26.93% from $383.22 billion to $486.43 billion while net income improved 34.80% from $30.46 billion to $41.06 billion.
Exxon's competitors in the natural gas field, such as Chesapeake Energy (CHK), are threatened by discounted prices and an overstocked market. Chesapeake is the second-largest natural gas producer behind Exxon Mobil, but has more to deal with than just dropping gas prices. The company is trying to revamp its image to lure investors back and keep shareholders happy. Anadarko Petroleum (APC) is another natural gas producer that is hoping for an increase in demand this winter. The company experienced elation with its discovery of a massive find off the coast of Mozambique that is said to contain 60 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, worth $30 billion to $60 billion. Unfortunately, Anadarko is awaiting the outcome of what could be a costly bankruptcy trial of Tronox, a chemical company. Anadarko purchased Tronox's former parent, Kerr-McGee, in 2006 and there are some issues surrounding fraudulent transfer of a spin-off. The beauty of Exxon Mobil is that it is so well-rounded as to be cushioned from the blows of whimsical price fluctuations.
Natural gas producers like Devon Energy (DVN) and Encana (ECA) also have alot to worry about. Encana tends to trade in sync with natural gas prices. Over the past five years, the company's stock has fallen 28%. Devon Energy's quarterly revenue was $2.6 billion vs. $3.2 billion in second-quarter 2011. This decline in revenue was due to lower oil, gas and natural gas liquids (NGL) sales. Devon recently entered into an agreement with Japan's Sumitomo worth approximately $1.4 billion. In the agreement, Sumitomo will invest $340 million in cash upon closing of the agreement and an added $1.02 billion will be invested as a drilling carry. In exchange, Sumitomo gets 30% of Devon's interest in 650,000 net acres in the Cline Shale and the Midland-Wolfcamp Shale.
Being insulated from natural gas ups and downs, Exxon Mobil continues to thrive with a diverse portfolio of global investments that keeps the company cash rich. In 2011, the company increased its cash reserves by 61.84%, or $4.84 billion, and earned $55.35 billion from its operations for a cash flow margin of 11.38%. Additionally, the company used $22.17 billion on investing activities and paid $28.26 billion in financing cash flows, for investments in future plays. For this reason, I believe Exxon Mobil to still be a great buy today and to keep for a very long time.
Investors looking for a company with years of experience in doing things right should look to Exxon Mobil. This is a company that is sure to please, with dividend payments to shareholders that have grown at an average annual rate of 6% over the last 30 years.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.