Shares of Chevron (CVX - Get Report) and Marathon Oil (MRO - Get Report) rose modestly out the gate Monday on news that Jefferies analysts had raised their price targets for the integrated oil majors.
Jefferies upped its expected price for Chevron's shares in a July 11 note to $116 from $114 and bumped Marathon's price target to $17 from $16 on its belief that "the oil market is in the early stages of a sustainable but protracted recovery."
The firm's thesis for improved long-term share prices rests on the notion that the imbalance of oil supply and demand will migrate back to balance and then on to an undersupply in the back half of 2016.
"Oil prices may not fully react to the fundamental undersupply until inventories draw to more normal levels in the late 2017/early 2018," Jefferies Jason Gammel and Marc Kofler wrote Monday. "At that point we believe $70 oil is fundamentally supported."
But in the near-term, Jefferies said oil prices have moved to a level that is within reach of the $61 per barrel mark, which the firm calls the "break-even" point for the sector.
"This improves the defensive qualities of the IOCs as dividends can generally be viewed as safe in the near-term," Gammel and Kofler said. "However, valuations are increasingly stretched and we believe these stocks are now discounting oil prices well over $80[per barrel] long-term on an intrinsic basis."
Jefferies said that the shares of these players have an embedded option value linked to oil price momentum and volatility, however, and cautioned that "this option value could be the more important driver of stock performance in the near term if oil prices remain volatile."
Nevertheless, integrated oil majors have signaled belief in an improving commodity environment recently, with Chevron's announced $37 billion expansion of the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan and Shell's planned Pennsylvania petrochemical facility, which Jefferies expects could require about $8 billion of capital.
And Barclays analysts also were slightly optimistic on North America's integrated oil space Monday, noting that it expects its group of 10 major oil companies, which includes Chevron and Marathon as well as ExxonMobil (XOM - Get Report) , to report second quarter results mostly above consensus.
"However, while oil & gas prices have recovered sharply from multi-year sub-$30/bl lows in [the first quarter], we expect most companies to be unable to generate positive earnings, even at a mid-$40/bl oil price deck-with the notable exception of XOM," Barclays' Paul Cheng wrote Monday.
Barclays also conceded that Chevron will likely report positive second quarter earnings, but the firm continues to favor NYSE-listed Canadian integrated major Suncor Energy (SU - Get Report) and oil explorer and producer ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) in the oil and gas space.
Jefferies calls for positive earnings per share reports from Chevron, Exxon, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, and expects second quarter losses from ConocoPhillips and Marathon.
Look to the final week of July to see if Barclays and Jefferies' predictions ring true. BP kicks off the earnings season for the majors on July 26, with ConocoPhillips following suit July 28, Chevron and Exxon reporting July 29 and Marathon rounding out the group Aug. 4.