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5 Shale Oil Companies With Best Prospects

Smaller companies that might be potential acquisition targets include the following:

Goodrich Petroleum (GDP): The company has 40,000 acres in Eagle Ford and, according to energy investment boutique Howard Weil, it has Eagle Ford non-proven value per share of $12.74 (or nearly 68% of its current equity value). With a debt-to-equity ratio of nearly 72%, Goodrich has a less-than-stellar balance sheet and might be a target for a better-positioned oil company. Consider Goodrich to be a speculative high-risk, high-reward investment.

Carrizo Oil and Gas (CRZO): The company has 41,000 acres in Eagle Ford after a recent purchase of 13,000 acres for a seemingly reasonable $1,650/acre. According to Howard Weil, Carrizo has had early success in drilling, with initial production of "high liquids content." Carrizo, like other gas plays, is looking to transition more into oil exploration and has been aggressively expanding production. According to Jason Simmons at DrillingInfo.com, Carrizo offers diversified exposure, due to its other sizeable stakes in the Barnett and Niobrara shale regions.

Magnum Hunter Resources (MHR): The company has significant leverage to Eagle Ford, with 25,000 net acres, but with diversified assets including 59,000 acres in the Marcellus shale and 81,000 acres in the Williston Basin (Bakken). Assuming a somewhat conservative $10,000 per acre, the Eagle Ford land could be worth 250 million, or more than $2 per share, representing 32% of the current price of $6.20 per share. Suntrust has a $12.50 price target on shares of Magnum, believing that "shares are undervalued especially when considering recent asset sales in Eagle Ford, Marcellus and Bakken along with the upcoming growth prospects of the company in the three regions."

SM Energy (SM): SM has 250,000 net acres in Eagle Ford and, according to Howard Weil, it is "the most leveraged public company to Eagle Ford on an acreage-to-enterprise-value basis." According to Bank of America-Merrill Lynch research analyst Rhett Bruno, SM's Eagle Ford assets are worth $43/share (or 64% of current market value). Bruno has an $82 price target on shares of SM, representing 21% upside from the recent close of $67.50 per share. "SM's discount to the group should narrow as drilling validates emerging-play concepts and expands the depth of the company's inventory. Key drivers include: well results from Eagle Ford, Haynesville, Bakken, Granite Wash and Marcellus."

Equity research manager Chris Stuart, CFA, joined TheStreet Ratings after working as a senior investment analyst with Merrill Lynch covering small-cap equity and alternative investment strategies. Prior to that, Stuart worked for One Beacon Insurance as an actuarial analyst and at H&R Block as a financial adviser. Stuart earned his bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He holds a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and is a member of the Boston Security Analysts Society (BSAS) and the CFA Institute.
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