NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's been a busy week of quarterly reports from the oil companies and there are a few recurrent themes among all of them. There's really nothing to change the strategy on investing in U.S. shale oil producers but one of them is showing me just a bit more value for the short term. That company is Devon Energy (DVN).
Clearly, depressed oil prices are being reflected in horrible earnings from all of the unconventional oil exploration and production, or E+P, companies. Some of the "beats" that are being recorded are merely "less bad" losses than were expected by the analysts. But oil prices have been rallying pretty spectacularly in the last few weeks, up almost 42% from the lows, and oil stocks have followed suit.
Lots of analysts have been trying to find a silver lining in recent quarterly reports from frackers. They have found another recurrent, this time positive, trend besides the big losses from lower oil prices: Efficiencies and costs to drill oil wells have been dropping and much faster than even the oil companies have promised or anticipated.
Horizontal drilling for oil is a very capital-intensive business, and the costs associated with a completed fracked well are the most important metric to a company's ability to complete more wells and increase production, growth and profits. This metric is getting much better. Anadarko (APC) reported a stunning 28% increase in efficiencies from last year and EOG Resources (EOG) maintains that it is as profitable at $65 oil today as it was at $95 oil three years ago.
While a big spike in oil prices would be the most important impetus to a concurrent spike in the share prices of these E+P companies, a decrease in costs can do nearly the same thing. If the oil companies are to appreciate from here, I believe it is more likely to happen because of decreasing costs than from an oil price headed back to $75.
Of the independent oil companies that have reported in the last few days, all of them have shared these two major themes of decreasing costs, huge year-over-year losses for the quarter and fairly steady production for the rest of the year. But Devon has been less appreciated than the rest in share price and may pose a very short-term value as opposed to the others.
I generally have stuck with three E+Ps for recommendation: EOG Resources, Anadarko Petroleum and Cimarex (XEC). But these three have appreciated -- at least for now, in my view -- beyond the underlying price for crude, while Devon has been somewhat ignored in comparison. It is only in that context that I want to look at Devon as a relative value play and will slip it into the portfolio.
I talk more about the recent quarterly reports from the US oil companies with Jill Malandrino in the video above.