Oil Exploration and Production Companies Spending the Most to Find Oil

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With oil prices consistently over the $100 level, the big exploration and production (E&P) companies are ramping up spending to take advantage of the high pricing. Wall Street estimates that between the E&P companies and the large integrateds, almost $160 billion dollars will be spent this year. The energy team at Jefferies sees little risk of a year-end onshore slowdown like the one that hit in 2012. Initial indicators also suggest that E&P companies are more willing than expected to invest more capital expenditure (capex) dollars into U.S. onshore drilling to benefit from efficiency-driven cost improvements. Here are some of the companies spending the most money to find oil.

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Apache Corp.  (APA) has been the focus of some concern as it has a large operation in Egypt. The company is expected to spend $5.8 billion dollars this year, which is right in line with Wall Street estimates. The Thomson/First Call price target for the stock is $99. A move to the price target would represent almost a 30% gain from current trading levels. Investors are paid a 1.0% dividend.

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Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) consistently ranks as one of the top energy stocks to buy at the Wall Street firms that we cover. The company is adding rigs in the Permian basin, bringing the program total to eight, and is particularly excited about recent results in the Wolfcamp section of the basin. The company’s biggest asset is in the Wattenberg field, DJ Basin, and there are 4,000 locations remaining in Anadarko’s inventory there. Overall, the company is expected to spend $5.5 billion this year, which looks to be weighted more towards the third and fourth quarter. The consensus price target for the stock is $111. Investors are paid a small 0.8% dividend.

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Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) is a name that activist investor Carl Icahn is buying. A recent filing shows that he holds 66.5 million shares, which represents almost a 10% stake in the company. Chesapeake is expected to spend $5.85 billion this year to expand production. The consensus price target for the stock is posted at $24. Investors receive a 1.4% dividend.

Hess Corp. (HES) is another top name that has had activist intervention in the stock. The company tossed the activists a bone in May when they split the role of chairman and CEO. The company is pressing ahead though and plans to spend $3.6 billion in its search for new oil and gas. The consensus price target for the stock is placed at $80. Investors are paid a small 0.5% dividend.

Noble Energy Inc. (NBL) is a company expected to benefit when Mexico opens the door for exploration and production from outside companies for the first time in 70 years. We recently wrote about other companies looking to cash in on Mexico. Noble also is revving up the spending to take advantage of higher oil prices. The company is expected to spend $2.37 billion this year. The consensus price objective for the stock is $70.50. Investors are paid a 0.5% dividend.

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Newfield Exploration Co. (NFX) is a smaller E&P looking to rise in stature. It was recently listed by Goldman Sachs as one of the 40 cheapest stocks to buy. It is expected to spend $1.5 billion this year in an effort to increase capacity and production. The consensus price target for the stock is set at $32. A move to the target price would be a 35% gain for investors.

Southwestern Energy Co. (SWN) operates through two segments: Exploration and Production, and Midstream Services. It also plans to increase spending this year with an anticipated capex budget of $2 billion. The consensus price target is $44.

Whiting Petroleum Corp. (WLL) really is stepping up to the plate on spending this year. In addition to being one of the top stocks held by legendary energy investor T. Boone Pickens, it is expected to spend almost $2.4 billion this year to expand production. The consensus price target for the stock is $62. A move to the target would be a 20% gain for shareholders.

Geopolitical mayhem in the Middle East and increasing demand from China and other emerging markets continues to drive demand and pricing. These top companies that are spending huge amounts of money to increase production are literally putting their money where their mouth is. Increased production should equal higher revenue. That is just what the doctor ordered to increase share prices for investors.

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