7. Brigham Exploration

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YTD Returns: 98%

Brigham Exploration ( BEXP) engages in the exploration, development, and production of onshore oil and natural gas reserves in the Rocky Mountains, the Gulf Coast, the Anadarko Basin and west Texas.

Brigham beat analyst expectations in the third quarter, reporting a profit adjusted for extraordinary items of $18 million, or 15 cents per share, versus a loss in the corresponding period of $300,000. Analysts expected an adjusted profit of 10 cents per share.

Production jumped 64% in the third quarter to 8,509 barrels of oil equivalent a day. High value crude oil accounted for 75% of the production. Brigham expects total average production of 10,200-10,800 barrels of oil equivalent (boe) per day. The company also raised its full-year exploration and development capital budget by 15 percent to $466.1 million.

The updated 2010 budget will fund approximately 44.8 net Williston Basin wells, two net Vicksburg wells in South Texas and 2.8 net wells primarily in the West Texas Wolfberry oil resource play.

Brigham recently reported above-average production rates from its five new wells in the oil-rich formation in the Bakken region located in North Dakota and Montana.

13 out of 18 analysts rate it a buy. MKM Partners recently downgraded the stock to neutral from buy with a 12-month price target of $31. Jefferies had a buy rating in November with a price target of $32. Analyst Subhash Chandra says the fourth quarter guidance looked conservative. "Based on 18 gross completions, midpoint of 8,100 bopd appears conservative. We currently estimate production of 8,400 bopd. Our revised EPS estimate of $0.25 is considerably above consensus of $0.15."

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