Even with new management and a shift in capital strategy, Occidental Petroleum's (OXY) expected total return may not be competitive with higher growth exploration and production (E&P) companies.
BMO Capital Markets downgraded the Action Alerts PLUS (AAP) holding to Market Perform from Outperform, saying "OXY shares are now in line with our $70 per share target price, and we don't see further upside to the valuation."
OXY shares were holding relatively flat during midday trading at just below $70.
BMO analyst Phillip Jungwirth says that even though Occidental has some "sweets spots" in the Delaware and Midland Basin, he does not view the core unconventional resource potential as significant enough to drive net asset value.
"While OXY is expected to grow production at a mid-single-digit rate over the 2017-19 period, combined with a 4.3% dividend yield, we view this all-in high-single-digit return as less compelling than the 15-20% debt-adjusted production growth we forecast for most of our Outperform-rated E&Ps," Jungwirth wrote in a research note on Wednesday. "With valuation in line, and unlikely to trade at a premium, we don't see a path to relative share price outperformance absent a bear market in oil prices, whereas we expect a gradual recovery," the BMO analyst concluded.
The downgrade is relatively in line with the view from AAP portfolio managers Jim Cramer and Jack Mohr.
"Occidental has been a thorn in my side," said Cramer. "I've been waiting, trying to build the Apache position so I can sell Occidental."
"The new CEO of Occidental has proven to be someone who is making a series of ill-advised decisions," Cramer concluded. The portfolio managers noted on Friday that they are looking to exit the position on any further uptick in oil prices.
On the contrary, Wells Fargo says the company remains "favorably positioned in the Permian Basin and should deliver some of the strongest production growth through 2019." The firm maintained its Outperform rating on OXY shares.
Wells Fargo, however, did downgrade ExxonMobil (XOM) to Market Perform from Outperform on the same day its former CEO Rex Tillerson faced a tough Senate confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.
"We had expected XOM to be able to pursue an acquisition during the oil price downturn as a way to deliver growth and returns," wrote senior analyst Roger Read in a research note Wednesday. "However, with that window likely closed for now plus its premium valuation, we are stepping back to neutral."
The firm cut its earnings per share (EPS) estimates for Exxon to $2.19 from $2.26 for 2016. EPS estimates for 2017 were adjusted upward by a penny to $4.28. XOM shares were rising by nearly 1% during the trading session Thursday.
Wells Fargo believes investors should focus their attention on companies with a favorable cost structure and the ability to deliver modest production growth. Suncor (SU) , ConocoPhilips (COP) , Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ) and Occidental all deliver on this criteria, Read says. The firm has an Outperform rating for these four stocks.