(Story updated to add that energy stocks were leading the stock market higher Tuesday, as concerns over rising crude-oil prices lifted independent producers and refiners to the biggest gains.)BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Rising oil prices are back on the front burner as one of the world's chief economic concerns, this time due to Iran's threat to cut off many of its biggest European customers, and that spells opportunity for some oil industry players. Iran's saber-rattling has been going on for weeks, but over the weekend, the country's oil-ministry news Web site said the nation will cut supplies to the U.K. and France. The European Union has been one of Iran's biggest markets, taking about 18% of its total exports last year. Iran's threat comes in response to an embargo of Iranian oil that the 27-nation European Union agreed to last month, to begin in July due to Iran's efforts to build nuclear weapons. Reuters reported Thursday that Iran's top oil buyers in Europe are already making substantial cuts in supply months in advance of the EU sanctions, and are planning to reduce inflows to the continent in March by more than a third. And with Libya and Iraqi supplies still mostly off-line, the loss of Iran's supply will push oil prices ever higher worldwide. Investors have been pouring money into crude oil futures in anticipation of that. For U.S. consumers, that means $4 a gallon gas within the next few weeks for some parts of the country, according to AAA, and higher later in the summer, up from the current $3.52 national average, a price not seen since 2008. It is hoped that relatively low domestic demand should keep it from reaching $5 a gallon. Iran forecast in December that if it cut off oil to the EU, prices would double worldwide, but that is seen as puffery as weak worldwide demand and promises from Saudi Arabia that it will make up the difference have helped mitigate price increases so far. But analysts estimate that Iran's noise-making has already added $5 to as much as $15 to a barrel of crude oil this year in Europe. Benchmark crude oil futures prices for March delivery rose to a nine-month high for the U.S. market Friday and a year-to-date gain of about 3.7%. Oil futures prices are rising quickly Tuesday morning, as they are up a little over 2% from Friday's close. Contracts for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange, reached $105.44 today, up $2.20 from Friday's close and the highest price since May 5. Energy stocks were leading the stock market higher Tuesday, as concerns over rising crude-oil prices lifted independent producers and refiners to the biggest gains. Hess ( HES) was the biggest gainer in the oil sector at the open Tuesday, gaining 2.4% and its shares were up 1.9% on the day by early afternoon. In response to the rapid rise in prices and the imminent threat to supply, oil industry companies' stocks have been on a run over the past month in anticipation of their increasing production and being able to raise prices, which means higher profits for them. Shares of integrated oil and gas companies, those big companies that do everything from explore for, produce, refine and sell oil and gas, have risen 6% in the past month and 8% this year. Oil and gas drilling company stocks, those of the firms that provide drilling services for the big integrated oil companies, are up 13% in the past month and 17% this year. The oil and gas refining and marketing industry's shares have risen 12% in the past month and 18% this year. Adding fuel to the fire for many oil industry players, Barclays Capital predicted in December, before the current crisis, that Big Oil's spending on exploration and production will jump 10% this year to a record $598 billion. Here are 10 stocks with big exposure to oil production that are already benefiting from market fears, in inverse order of their share price return in the past month:
10. Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS.A) Company profile: Shell is an integrated energy company with exploration, production, and refining operations worldwide. It is of the largest energy companies in the world with refineries and retail operations in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. It's going to be a bellwether in this crisis as it buys oil from Iran. The challenges it faces are as yet unknown, but as one of the biggest suppliers to Western Europe, it's likely to have to buy oil elsewhere to meet its commitments and that could benefit it in terms of higher prices it passes on, as well as some U.S.-based suppliers. Investor takeaway: Shell's shares are up 7% this month and just over 1% on the year. Its shares have a dividend yield of 3.96%. S&P has its shares rated "hold," on expectations of relatively flat earnings this year. S&P's survey of analysts found three "buy/hold" ratings and six "holds." 9. Lukoil ( LKOD) Company profile: Russia's Lukoil, with a $49 billion market value, explores for, produces, refines, transports oil and gas from Western Siberia to markets throughout Western Europe. If Iran shuts off the spigot, or the six European countries that threaten a boycott in July follow through with it, Lukoil will likely be tapped to make up some part of the lost production. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 12% this month and have a three-year average annual return of 21%. Lukoil doesn't get U.S. investment house coverage, so ratings aren't available. Aberdeen Asset Management is the biggest institutional shareholder with a 2.6% stake. 8. Anadarko Petroleum ( APC) Company profile: Anadarko Petroleum is one of the largest independent oil and gas exploration and production companies in North America and also operates in the Gulf of Mexico and Africa. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 13% in the past month, and 14% on the year and have a three-year annualized return of 31%. S&P has its shares rated "buy," with a $102 price target, a 15% premium to the current price. Analysts give its shares 14 "buy" ratings, eight "buy/holds," and seven "holds." They expect earnings of $3.48 per share this year and they will grow by 39% in 2013. 7. EOG Resources ( EOG) Company profile: EOG is one of the largest independent oil and gas exploration and production companies in the world, with operations principally in North America, but also in Trinidad, the United Kingdom, and China. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 14% this month and 19% this year. It is shifting its emphasis from natural gas production to oil to get the better margins oil now offers and that is expected to boost earnings. It is expected to earn $4.59 per share this year, an estimated 30% increase from last year's results. Capital Research Global Investors, with an 8.3% stake, is the largest shareholder. S&P has its shares rated "buy" with a $135 price target, a 17% premium to the current price. Analysts give its shares 10 "buy" ratings, eight "buy/holds," 13 "holds," and one "sell," according to S&P. 6. Hess ( HES) Company profile: Hess is an integrated oil company involved in exploration and production on several continents, with refining and marketing operations primarily in the eastern U.S. The company's downstream operations are comprised of about 1,360 gas stations and a U.S. refinery. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 15% in the past month, equal to about their gain on the year, including 2.6% in the past week. S&P has its shares rated "buy" with a $76 price target, which is about a 17% premium to the current price. Analysts give its shares eight "buy" ratings, seven "buy/holds," and five "holds." Those same analysts project earnings of $6.61 per share this year and that they will grow by 23% in 2013.
5. National Oilwell Varco ( NOV) Company profile: National Oilwell Varco is one of the largest drilling rig and equipment suppliers in the drilling industry, including sophisticated offshore, deepwater rigs. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 16% this month and 24% this year. S&P has its shares rated "buy," with a $98 price target, a 17% premium to its current price. Analysts give its shares 17 "buy" ratings, 11 "buy/holds," and one "hold." 4. Ensco ( ESV) Company profile: Ensco, based in London, owns one of the newest on- and off-shore oil and gas drilling fleets in the industry. It contracts with the world's largest national and international oil companies. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 17% over the past month and 18% this year. S&P has its shares rated "buy," with a $65 price target, which is a 17% premium to its current price. Analysts expect its earnings will jump 89% this year to $5.87 per share. Analysts give its shares 18 "buy" ratings, 10 "buy/holds," and eight "holds." Ensco was upgraded to Goldman Sachs' Americas buy list last week. 3. Oceaneering International ( OII) Company profile: Oceaneering International, with a market value of $6 billion, is a global provider of equipment and services for deep-water rigs and subsea projects. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 17% in the past month. On Feb. 13, Goldman Sachs upgraded its shares to its Americas conviction buy list. S&P doesn't have it rated, but its survey of analysts found six "buy" ratings, three "buy/holds," and one "sell." In 2012, analysts expect its earnings will grow 28% to $2.57 per share. 2. Noble ( NE) Company profile: Noble is an offshore drilling contractor for the oil and gas industry worldwide, drilling of oil and gas wells with its large fleet of drilling rigs. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 20% this month and 27% this year. S&P has it rated "buy," with a $43 price target, a 13% premium to the current price. Goldman Sachs last week upgraded its shares to its Americas buy list. S&P found 20 "buy" ratings, 12 "buy/holds," and nine "holds," in its survey of analysts. Those same analysts expect its 2012 earnings will grow 120% to $3.04 per share. 1. Transocean ( RIG) Company profile: Transocean, with a $16 billion market value, offers offshore contract drilling services for oil and gas wells worldwide. It specializes in deepwater and harsh environment drilling, and also offers project management services. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 22% in the past month and 28% this year. S&P has its shares rated "hold," due to potential legal and financial liabilities from the 2010 BP oil rig blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Its 2012 earnings are expected to grow by 155% to $2.73 by analysts, who give its shares 16 "buy" ratings, seven "buy/holds," 15 "holds," two "weak holds," and one "sell." >>To see these stocks in action, visit the 10 Stocks Rallying as Oil Prices Surge portfolio on Stockpickr.