ConocoPhillips (COP) didn't shock with its Q4 results but they look great when compared with its biggest competitors as it moves to overcome the problems of high costs and lack of fresh reserves that have nagged at Exxon (XOM) and Shell (RDS.A, RDS.B).
Analysts say COP's plan to sell lower-yielding assets to focus on more profitable oil production is beginning to pay off as the industry faces pressure from shareholders to lift returns despite flat oil prices and rising costs for risky exploration work designed to replace reserves.
Credit Suisse calls COP the best performing large oil company, citing 7% growth in cash flow despite asset sales, a reduced share count and more cash on the balance sheet.
Meanwhile, XOM's results reflect a "mediocre quarter," especially in international production, Edward Jones says, adding XOM has already lost momentum already, reverting back to declining production and stagnant earnings.
Shell is seen as off to a good start under its new CEO but with far to go.