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Despite Moving Higher, Exxon Stock Still Underperforms

Will Healy

ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) stock has so far enjoyed a good 2019. Coming off the stock market selloff of last fall, Exxon stock has risen by about 15% since the first of the year.

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However, the stock has remained on a long-term downtrend since oil prices peaked more than five years ago. Although oil trades much higher than its 2016 lows, sectors such as natural gas, refining, and chemicals continue to hold ExxonMobil down.

Until more of its segments see better pricing, XOM stock will struggle to rally far beyond current levels.

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Exxon Stock Keeps Moving Sideways

By segments, I do not necessarily mean oil. Yes, XOM has experienced some disruption from Tropical Strom Barry in the Gulf of Mexico. The temporary shutdown in offshore drilling could have an impact on earnings and perhaps create a buying opportunity in the stock.

However, that does not necessarily mean traders will want to take advantage. Admittedly, I liked Exxon when I covered it back in early January. It then traded at around $72 per share and had begun to recover from the stock slump that hit the market just before Christmas. Since that time, it has had ups and downs but now trades at $78 per share.

Still, what concerns me most about XOM stock is the fact that it never recovered from the mid-decade slump in oil prices. In the spring of 2014, the XOM stock price had topped $100 per share. Granted, at that time, oil prices had often topped $100 per barrel. Since oil prices had fallen below $30 per barrel by 2016, one can understand the subsequent drop in ExxonMobil stock.

However, oil prices have recovered to about $60 per barrel today. XOM stock remains at about the same high-$70s per share range where it traded in early 2016. In that same time, its closest peer, Chevron (NYSE:CVX) has risen by more than 50%.

Chevron and Exxon Stock

XOM stock is clearly not a terrible investment. It remains a diversified business that can earn profits and increase dividends regardless of oil prices. The company generated just over $36 billion in free cash flow in 2018. Moreover, its 4.5% dividend yield and 36-year track record of payout hikes remain a testament to its stability.

Furthermore, ExxonMobil leads the world in refining and polyethylene production. It also remains the leading natural gas producer in the country. With natural gas, Chevron lags much smaller players such as Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC), and Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN).

However, except on dividend yield and production levels, it finds itself continuously outmatched by Chevron. Moreover, according to Barron’s, ExxonMobil will have to spend 75% more to increase its oil-equivalent production. It also faces weak margins in refining and chemicals in addition to low natural gas prices.

Furthermore, both Exxon stock and Chevron trade at about the same price-to-earnings (PE) ratio. ExxonMobil’s PE ratio stands at about 17.9 compared with 17.3. Both will see shrinking profits this year.

However, analysts forecast a 21.3% decline for XOM. They predict a drop of 4.4% for Chevron. Chevron also looks poised for higher growth when earnings begin to increase for both companies. Although holders of XOM stock may earn more dividend income, Chevron stock will probably benefit more from its comparatively higher growth.

Final Thoughts on Exxon Stock

Despite a surge in recent months, underperformance continues to define XOM stock. ExxonMobil has risen this year. However, the equity remains in a long-term downtrend.

Although a storm in the Gulf may have only temporary effects on drilling, XOM investors will probably have to worry about low price levels in segments such as natural gas and refining for a longer period. Moreover, its archrival Chevron continues to grow faster and outperform ExxonMobil on most financial metrics.

At current levels, XOM can offer relative stability and a generous dividend payout, but little else.

As of this writing, Will Healy is long CHK stock. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.

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