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Exxon or Chevron? Both Seem Reasonable

Note that return results trail the business results of Exxon because of P/E compression. That is, in 1999 Exxon was trading at about 27 times earnings against today's much lower multiple of 11. Despite this headwind, both the business and return performance of Exxon were quite impressive over this time period.

Moving to Chevron, we see a similar story. Instead of growing earnings by 12% a year over the last decade and a half, CVX was able to increase its business results by about 15% a year. In addition, Chevron's management also demonstrated a strong propensity to increase its dividend through the years.

Much in the same manner as Exxon, Chevron's total return results were quite strong. In fact -- at roughly 9.3% a year -- they were even stronger. Yet, also notice that the same P/E compression caused a Chevron investor's total return to trail the business results of the company. Specifically, the P/E dropped from about 28 to today's mark of about 10. Still, the business performance and return results of both companies has been quite solid.

So while one might suggest that CVX has had better return and business results in the past, it hardly seems fair to indicate that XOM has been a subpar partnership. In addition, one might point to things like Exxon's superior historic buyback program as a less talked about advantage. For example, as seen below, Chevron has been able to decrease its common shares outstanding from about 2.14 billion in 2003 to today's mark of about 1.93 billion, roughly a 1% yearly decrease.

However, during the same time Exxon was able to decrease its common shares outstanding from about 6.57 billion in 2003 to today's 4.4 billion mark, or roughly a 4% yearly decline. Moving forward, one may believe that Exxon's ongoing share repurchase program could prove more effective than Chevron's program. Interestingly, both companies have an open-ended platform for buying back shares.

But, of course, assessing whether a company is fit as an investment partnership is more about the future than the past. Although history can serve as an important foundation, it's fundamental to consider a company's ongoing prospects. A complete view into each of these companies is beyond the scope of this article, but luckily F.A.S.T. Graphs provides a reasonable starting place.

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