NEW YORK (TheStreet) -It's time once again to select our top oil stocks for the coming year. Last year saw some interesting energy developments, all of which were sidetracked by the BP oil spill -- and made predictions for the year impossible.
Barring something unforeseeable like that, however, 2011 promises to be a great year for energy, with a rising crude price and what I believe will also be a breakout year for natural gas in sharp contrast to most energy analysts out there who see natural gas as remaining flat for the coming 12 months. So, let's get to the picks.
Just about everyone has gotten on the bandwagon, calling for $100 dollar or more crude oil prices in 2011. Now, I could claim to be the bandleader, having made my call for $100 oil in the second quarter of 2011 as early as August, but the overwhelming chorus of bullish oil predictions has me a little worried now. I mean, when was the last time everybody was right at once?
Top 3 Energy Stocks for 2011
Still, with investment interest in oil being fueled by a recovery that is clearly on track, industrial growth both here and in the emerging markets and a real shortage of oil services units to get to the backlog caused by the summertime
disaster, it's tough to be bearish on the price of crude. The "risk trade" alone is enough to force crude over the $100 dollar hurdle relatively quickly.
If oil is headed higher in 2011, there are obvious ways to take advantage of the trend - and no, that does not include the futures-based ETF's for oil like the
United States Oil Fund
, probably the worst investment out there.
The best way to leverage a rising price for crude is with the integrated oil companies, historically the best proxy. In that space,
has continued to be my top pick for its best of class return-on-equity (ROE) and its underperformance compared to the other large integrated stocks.
I am relying upon Exxon's proven execution of long-term strategy, 25-year history of increasing dividends and stock buyback programs to prove that it will ultimately outperform the rest of the sector.
Another beaten-up stock that might represent a more speculative play on a rising price of crude would be small
, moving from a natural gas to more "oily" assets last year and so far not realizing much confidence in its stock price.
In 2011, that could change and make for a big percentage win on an investment in them now.
As I mentioned, most analysts are predicting an enormous shortage of oil services in the coming year, a trend made even stronger, obviously, by a rising price in crude.
Besides the enormous backlog of offshore drilling projects just waiting for permits in the Gulf, the rig rates for both shallow and deepwater are at relatively low levels, far beneath their peak rates of 2006 and 2007.
Both of these are ready to turn entirely around in 2011. Morgan Stanley has predicted that virtually every rig available will be in production use by the third quarter of next year, practically assuring higher rates and margins.
Inside the space, I have been partial to
, up more than 40% since my recommendation last year, and continue to hold it, but with the outlook for 2011, I'm ready to add
to holdings. I recommended big HAL two months ago at $31 as they struggled with a bad report from the BP well commission on the cement that it had used in the drilling process.
When Halliburton shares swooned, I took that as an opportunity to buy, but believe that even over $41, where it trades now, Halliburton shares have not recouped the value they lost compared to others in the sector.
Indeed, using 2011 consensus EPS estimates, Halliburton is running at 16 times, while Baker-Hughes, for example, is running at 18 times. Halliburton still represents a relative value here.
The motion away from crude oil towards natural gas has to continue gaining steam - after all, it is domestic, plentiful, cheaper than crude - and greener.
Environmental concerns with hydraulic fracturing from shale, although mostly overblown, have in some ways helped the industry restore margins.
The recent "fracking ban" imposed by Gov. Patterson on Marcellus shale leases in New York has been part of the reason that "natty" has rallied from $3.50 to stand today nearer to $4.40.
I've called for the pressures from environmentalists to increase while the demand for gas to similarly ramp -- a cocktail I reckon will send gas prices to a peak level of $7 dollars next year.
If that happens, you'll see some tremendous gains from dedicated natural gas companies, of which
remains my favorite. Another smaller choice for those looking for a riskier play with greater possible upside is
with quality Permian basin exposure.
So, there you have it - my energy stocks for 2011. All of my picks have exposure to the price of the underlying commodities and are levered to my prediction for higher prices in both crude and natural gas.
As I've always advised, betting on a commodity price is best accomplished by the average investor by investing in stocks. And if energy prices continue to rise, the few I've given here should work well.
At the time of publication, Dicker held positions in Exxon-Mobil, Baker Hughes, Halliburton and Devon. This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.