Value's getting tough to find in the energy industry these days. That's largely due to the soaring price of oil -- Brent crude is now nudging $75 per barrel, up from just $45 per barrel a year ago. The stock market is anticipating big paydays for oil and gas drillers and other companies in the sector.
But if you look hard enough, there are still some values to be found among oil and gas stocks. Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN), Apache Corporation (NYSE: APA), and Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI) have all managed to buck the trend of rising stock prices. Here's why these three stocks look incredibly cheap right now.
Most oil and gas stocks have outperformed the market as prices have risen. Image source: Getty Images.
Back from the dead
The best performer on this list, independent oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) company Devon Energy, is up an underwhelming 0.3% so far this year. That's compared to an overall industry increase -- as measured by the SPDR Oil and Gas Exploration and Production ETF -- of 10.7%.
For an E&P like Devon, in the current high-energy-price environment, investors should look closely at the company's overall production numbers and guidance. The more oil and gas Devon can pump, the better it's likely to perform. The reason Devon's stock tanked in February was the poor production numbers in its Q4 2017 earnings report. Quarterly production came in at 548,000 barrel of oil equivalents per day (BOE/d). That was below even the low end of management's guidance for the quarter of 551,000 BOE/d to 571,000 BOE/d. The production shortfall naturally resulted in lackluster net income.
But fast-forward to May, and Devon's Q1 2018 production numbers were in the middle of its guidance range of 530,000 BOE/d to 554,000 BOE/d, at 544,000 BOE/d. Of course, you'll notice that this number was even lower than its Q4 2017 production number, but that's thanks to a combination of bad weather in January and some ongoing maintenance issues carried over from Q4.
The reason the quarter's production numbers should bring hope to investors is the dynamite production coming from the Permian Basin. The company drilled two Permian Basin wells in Q1 that spit out a combined 24,000 barrels of oil equivalent in the first 24 hours. To put that number in context, it's the highest initial rate ever recorded in the Permian Basin. These and other high-performing Permian wells caused the company to raise its production forecasts for the year...and as I said before, it's all about production.
Wall Street knows it's all about production, too, and has given Devon's share price a bit of a boost since its earnings report came out, but considering the company's much-improved production prospects for 2018 and beyond, Devon still looks like a strong choice to snap up now.
The cold shoulder
Speaking of the red-hot Permian Basin of Texas, one of the biggest -- and most unexpected -- recent finds in the region belongs to the next company on the list, E&P Apache Corporation. Its bargain-basement find, dubbed Alpine High, looks ever more promising as Apache builds out its infrastructure. Once again, it's all about the production.
Alpine High's production contributed to the company's solid Q1 2018 performance, in which its overall Permian Basin production was up 24% year over year. Companywide, adjusted Q1 production was 367,000 BOE/d, a 6% year-over-year increase. Like Devon, Apache raised its overall 2018 U.S. production guidance on the strength of these numbers, and now expects to produce 250,000 BOE/d to 258,000 BOE/d
But unlike Devon's, Apache's shares have actually declined by 6.2% so far this year. Investors may be nervous that Apache's slow-and-steady development of Alpine High could cramp expected production gains. I can't see any other reason for investors to be ignoring the stock. The current price of less than $40 per share represents an excellent opportunity to buy a company that's growing its production, and snag a best-in-class 2.5% dividend yield into the bargain.
Clean out the pipes
Moving on from the world of E&Ps into the world of midstream pipeline operators, we come to Kinder Morgan, the world's largest pipeline owner. Like the other two companies on the list, it's seen no love from the stock market recently, with shares down 7.5% so far this year.
But, like Apache and Devon, Kinder Morgan reported a stellar Q1 2018 in which it also boosted its dividend by 60%, bought back a quarter-billion dollars' worth of its shares, and saw its natural gas pipeline earnings and volumes improve. Like production to an E&P, volumes -- the amount of petroleum moving through Kinder Morgan's pipelines -- is king for a pipeline operator.
Natural gas transportation volumes were up 10% year-over-year in Kinder Morgan's most recent quarter, thanks in part to higher demand resulting from the bitter winter weather that caused Devon such problems, but also thanks to higher production from the Apaches and Devons of the world. And Kinder Morgan CEO Steven Kean said on the company's Q1 earnings call that he doesn't see that trend flagging any time soon: "Gas supply and demand is growing across the US. Volumes are growing in the Permian, the Bakken [Shale] and the Haynesville [Shale of Texas/Louisiana/Arkansas]." Not coincidentally, Kinder Morgan has pipelines and other facilities serving all three of these areas.
Given that Kinder Morgan's business looks likely to continue booming, and with its shares trading at a discount to those of its peers, when comparing EV (enterprise value) to EBITDA, Kinder Morgan looks incredibly cheap.
Things can change quickly
A year ago, the oil and gas sector was awash in cheap stocks, as oil prices hovered around $50 per barrel. Today, such values are tougher to find, but Devon, Apache, and Kinder Morgan are excellent bets. These three companies look like real bargains, worth snapping up as part of a diversified portfolio.
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