Chevron Corporation (NYSE: CVX ) has had an interesting two and a half years. The company's earnings have collapsed and, as of yet, shown few signs of recovering. However, CVX stock has subsequently recovered nearly all its losses after falling nearly 50% from its peak.
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Is Chevron stock performing well despite the weak oil price environment?
To be honest, not especially. The company's most recent earnings report delivered another big miss on both earnings and revenues. However, management's effective cost-cutting measures have encouraged investors. And the company has resolutely maintained its dividend despite a glaring lack of free cash flow. With the price of oil recovering and the worst seemingly passed, can CVX stock continue moving higher?
CVX Stock Cons
Back Near All-Time Highs : Chevron stock made its all-time peak in mid-2014 around $130 per share. Back then, crude oil traded for almost $100 per barrel. As we know, since then, the price of oil has crashed. Today's $53 per barrel price is certainly an improvement from the lows, as oil did bottom just above $25 per barrel. However, $53 is a far cry from where oil traded prior to the crash.
Yet CVX stock seems oblivious. Yes, Chevron stock did lose half its value in 2015 and 2016. However, unlike oil, CVX didn't stay down for long. Within a 12-month span, Chevron incredibly ripped almost all the way back to its all-time high, reaching as high as $119 per share recently. Regardless of how exactly you value CVX's business, it's hard to argue that Chevron stock is worth the same today as it was in 2014 with oil worth $40 per barrel less than back then.
Threat of a Dividend Cut : Chevron remains roughly a break-even operation. Prior to 2014's oil crash, Chevron was strongly profitable, but since then, it has been hit or miss. The company currently shows a loss over the trailing 12-month period, and only modest profitability going forward.
The company's cash flow from operations isn't cutting it to pay for capital expenditures, to say nothing of its outsized dividend. Not surprisingly, the company has had to leverage up, dramatically, to keep the dividend going as scheduled. Between 2012 and now, long-term debt has mushroomed from $12 billion up to $40 billion. The company can keep mortgaging the future and selling off assets to keep dividend investors happy today, but sooner or later the dividend will get cut if profits don't come back strongly.
LNG Projects Still Raising Doubts : Chevron has invested incredible amounts of money in its various LNG projects. The company's Gorgon Australian project saw its tab run up from just $37 billion to $54 billion as the project developed. $17 billion is two years worth of CVX's dividend obligations to shareholders; it's not chump change. Gorgon, now completed, has faced issues once coming online with various production stoppages.
The company's other huge Australian LNG project, Wheatstone, has also deviated from course. It has run billions of dollars over budget as well. And first production, which should have already begun, has now been delayed to mid-year. Investors are counting on these projects to yield big on Chevron's huge investments. 2017 is the make or break year for proving the economics of these LNG plants.
CVX Stock Pros
Leverage to Rising Oil Prices : For many dividend investors, the big question is: CVX stock or Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE: XOM ) stock? Chevron currently yields 3.8%. That slightly outpaces Exxon Mobil, which clocks in at 3.6%. That fits with the general narrative about the two stocks; Exxon Mobil is safer, while CVX stock yields a little more as a trade-off.
Exxon Mobil finds its strength in diversification. XOM stock represents a full-service play on the oil and gas industry. Its refining segment has a great job of insulating the company from energy price fluctuations. Chevron didn't spin off refining entirely, unlike ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ). However Chevron is tied more to higher energy prices through things such as its gargantuan LNG projects rather than its refining and chemicals business.
Oil a Bit Healthier : Oil hasn't come close to recovering back to its pre-2014 crash levels. The idea of $100 oil still seems like quite a long-shot anytime soon. However, a year ago, oil was busy bottoming under $30 per barrel. This year, oil has managed to hold its rallies; oil topped $50 per barrel at the end of November and hasn't traded below that point since.
This is arguably the strongest oil has looked on a technical basis since the current crash began. OPEC appears able to limit oil production for once, rather than just talking about it. And Trump's ascension to the presidency has put a big bid under the commodity market in general. The U.S. Dollar has started to struggle, and oil, which tends to trade inversely to the greenback, is benefiting from the new political environment.
Big Dividend : Yes, the dividend is on pretty shaky ground at the moment. The company can't really fund the dividend from its ongoing operations, even if it sharply cut back on capital expenditures. However big oil generally rewards its shareholders, maintaining dividends during hard times while putting aside some cash during the cyclical booms.
CVX stock continues to throw off a generous 3.8% dividend at the moment. That makes it one of the higher-yielding American mega-cap companies. If oil's recent strength can hold up, the dividend should continue at current levels for at least awhile longer. If you're aware of the risks the dividend faces in a prolonged low-energy price environment, CVX stock might be an acceptable income stock choice.
Bottom Line on Chevron Stock
If you are bullish on oil prices, CVX stock will probably perform better than Exxon Mobil in coming quarters. However, both stocks, and in fact most major oil companies, appear priced for far better than today's energy price deck.
If oil prices drop, Chevron stock would take a big spill; a dividend cut would also loom on the horizon. Whereas higher oil prices still wouldn't move the needle all that far for Chevron. On the whole of it, the risks outweigh the reward. You can get safer 3.8% dividend yields elsewhere.
At the time of this writing, Ian Bezek had no positions in any of the aforementioned stocks. You can reach him on Twitter @irbezek.
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