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ConocoPhillips Split: Who's Next?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) plan to spin off its refining operations is sparking discussion about who could be next, and what the move means for the rest of the industry.

There's already chatter that another integrated oil major like ExxonMobil (XOM - Get Report) may now follow suit. At the same time, there are implications for stocks in the independent E&P space as well as the oil refiners.

Here are a few of the trading read-throughs Wall Street was discussing after the ConocoPhillips' surprise.
  • ConocoPhillips may be the best dividend stock play, and by a wide margin, in the independent E&P sector.
  • Argus Research analyst Phil Weiss noted that ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva said on the Thursday conference call that ConocoPhillips will be keeping its dividend policy in place. The stock is currently offering a dividend yield of 3.3% and if it maintains that policy as a smaller, stand-alone E&P company, the yield could rise to over 4%, Argus Research estimates.

    "No one is close to that in the independent E&P space," Weiss said. As an example, he cited the dividend yield of 1.8% offered by Occidental Petroleum (OXY) as high among independents currently. He added Chesapeake Energy (CHK) as another example, with a 1.2% yield.

    "ConocoPhillips may not get some of the same growth-oriented investors that flock to other E&Ps, but income investors would find something not available in other E&Ps," Weiss said.
  • Is Exxon Mobil, Chevron or BP next to pursue a refining spinoff?
  • BP shares gained over 1% on Thursday on elevated trading volume. It was the only other major energy stock trading up, alongside ConocoPhillips, as the energy sector and markets were down on Thursday. BP has been trying to sell off some of its refineries, and hasn't found a buyer yet.

    Sam Margolin, refining analyst at Dahlman Rose, wonders if BP will look at ConocoPhillips' move and the recent success of the Marathon Oil (MRO) spin off and shift gears.

    "This should sort of set off light bulbs when these companies are deciding to sell refineries and leave them on the market for months, like BP. Why not do a tax-friendly spin off?," he says. "It's not good to see a 'for sale' sign out there for so long, so maybe BP does the same.

    The analyst also noted that there are only a handful of buyers that would even be able to acquire a refining asset like BP's Texas City, and that would have been a problem for ConocoPhillips also.
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