Five ways to play the oil price plunge
1. Buy low-cost, low-debt producers
Oil production is, to say the least, a costly business. The cost of finding and "lifting" a barrel of oil out the ground varies between $16.88 in the Middle East to $51.60 offshore in the United States, according to the US Energy Information Administration. An analysis by Citi published by Business Insider shows that a significant amount of US shale oil production will be challenged if Brent prices move below $60 (Brent is currently at $49), and that companies are canceling projects that require prices above $80 a barrel to break even.
In this difficult price environment, investors want to buy companies that can produce at a lower rate than their competitors and do not have significant debts they need to service while having to accept lower commodity prices. Here are three possibilities:
Crescent Point Energy (NYSE, TSX:CPG) is a conventional oil and gas producer with assets in Canada and the United States, Crescent Point can pull oil out of the ground at a cheaper rate than its Canadian oil sands rivals. Despite cutting spending by 28% in 2015, the Saskatchewan-focused firm is still planning to increase average daily production to 152,000 barrels. Crescent Point has a solid balance sheet, with net debt totaling $2.8 billion as of Sept. 30, against a market value of $11.55 billion. CPG also offers a very attractive 10.64% dividend at its current share price, leading to the speculation that its dividend could be cut if low oil prices persist. However, Crescent Point has stated that it will only cut its dividend as a last resort and has other levers at its disposal, including borrowing through one of its credit facilities or further reducing its capital budget later this year.
Husky Energy (TSX:HSE): After a clobbering of 25% over the last six months, partly due to cost overruns at its Sunrise oil sands project, upstream and downstream behemoth Husky now offers a respectable 4.69% dividend for buy and hold investors. Husky is pulling in the reins on spending, trimming $1.7 billion off its capital budget in 2015, mostly at its Western Canadian oil and gas operations. A third of Husky's production in 2015 was natural gas, which has held up better than oil, and should provide smooth earnings going forward. The company will also get a bump in cash flow from its Liwan project in the South China Sea. This joint venture with Chinese company CNOOC is in its second phase and Husky will receive a 50% price premium on the gas compared to North American prices.
Suncor Energy (NYSE, TSX:SU): This Canadian oil sands giant has been a lean machine since scrapping its $11.6-billion upgrading plant back in 2013. As The Motley Fool pointed out in a recent piece, Suncor has dropped its operating costs from $37 per barrel in 2013 to $31.10 in the last quarter. Importantly, Suncor is not feeling strangled by a high debt load, which makes contending with lower margins much easier. SU had about $6.6 billion in debt compared to nearly $42-billion in shareholder equity as of Sept. 30, one of the lowest debt ratios in the industry, notes Motley Fool. Lastly, investors with a long view can take comfort from Suncor's respectable 3.17% dividend.