Exxon Mobil: Are Better Days Ahead for the Struggling Oil Giant?

Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM) has experienced a tough time these days. Yrs of very low oil selling prices have slash into the Texas-based oil titan’s hard cash move, which has induced it to lose a great deal of its sector capitalization. Items reached a new low past yr many thanks to the financial disruptions wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Like so a lot of other oil producers, Exxon confronted profound money challenges as oil selling prices plummeted.

As 2021 kicks off, there are some symptoms that Exxon’s years of underperformance may well be coming to an stop. Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) is the most up-to-date Wall Avenue company to emphasize Exxon’s potential. On Dec. 11, the investment decision bank anointed Exxon as its new top pick among huge oil shares, replacing Chevron Corp. (NYSE:CVX). I am not so absolutely sure.

Slicing back again on overhead and advancement financial investment

In accordance to Morgan Stanley, there are a few motorists guiding Exxon’s turnaround story. 1st and foremost is its thriving initiatives to minimize expenses:

“In response to the 2020 oil cost collapse, XOM prudently deferred its countercyclical development programs, reducing 2022-2025 capex from $30-35B to $20-25B, with more substantial reductions to $16-19B in 2021. On best of this, administration has disclosed options to lower hard cash running costs by at least 15% with finish specifics probable to be disclosed about the coming months. We have analyzed XOM’s price framework relative to CVX and estimate reductions can achieve ~23% from 2019 ranges, exceeding steerage and consensus expectations.”

Exxon’s planned 15% reduction in operating overhead would definitely allow it to far better weather conditions long run financial shocks. The 23% reduction predicted by Morgan Stanley would be even much better. If the organization can keep on to execute on its cost-cutting efforts successfully, there is ample motive to believe it will recover at minimum some of its lustre in the near time period.

On the other hand, Exxon’s value reductions also include things like designs to slash growth capex. Even though that may support the firm’s fiscal wellness in the small run, it also risks hampering progress in excess of the extended operate. Bringing new extraction assignments on the internet involves substantial investments of time and resources. Exxon could conclude up paying a superior price for its economizing down the line.

Money circulation fueled by oil selling price rebound

The 2nd driver recognized by Morgan Stanley concerns Exxon’s no cost dollars stream anticipations. Particularly, the expense bank predicts that rebounding oil and fuel rates will act as a tailwind:

“A tightening world-wide oil marketplace, rebounding gas price ranges, forward crack spreads that have begun to rally, and an strengthening chemical substances outlook supports margins going back in just historical ranges for all of XOM’s main business units.”

In accordance to Morgan Stanley, the price of Brent crude must arrive at $60 for each barrel in the 2nd 50 % of 2021, which would make it possible for Exxon to improve free cash circulation appreciably. Certainly, the investment financial institution predicts that the business will create about $17.5 billion in free of charge income circulation this 12 months, very well over the Wall Road consensus estimate of somewhere around $12 billion.

The value of oil is crucially essential to the operational and fiscal health and fitness of Exxon, as it is for all oil producers. If Morgan Stanley’s oil cost prediction holds genuine, the enterprise could certainly take pleasure in a surge in funds movement. Having said that, the prospect of $60 per barrel is much from particular. Certainly, although need is definitely picking up, so far too is source, which, according to the U.S. Vitality Facts Administration’s December current market outlook, is established to maximize by 5.8 million barrels for each day in the new year. In the more time operate, oil may experience however additional pricing pressures as the price of oil discovery boosts in the coming a long time.

Dividend no extended in risk

The third and ultimate arrow of Morgan Stanley’s Exxon thesis is all about the dividend. The company’s dividend has been underneath force for some time. It failed to protect the dividend and cash expenditures organically in the two 2018 and 2019. Final year’s disaster-driven collapse of the oil value drove Exxon’s dividend go over deeply negative, foremost a lot of to issue irrespective of whether it could find the money for to keep on paying out. In accordance to Morgan Stanley, this is set to transform in 2021:

“Proactive charge & capex cuts coupled with rebounding commodity prices and downstream & chemical substances margins aid outsized rate of improve in FCF and dividend deal with for XOM in 2021.”

Morgan Stanley predicts that Exxon’s dividend cover will enhance considerably in 2021 as rebounding vitality selling prices travel much more funds flow. But that prediction relies on the assumption that the oil selling price rally will continue indefinitely. In accordance to Morgan Stanley’s calculations, Exxon will have to have the price of Brent to continue to be at or earlier mentioned $49 for each barrel in get to address even its lowered money expenditure designs and dividend. Nevertheless even now Brent is hovering around $51 per barrel.

Even further oil rate declines in the facial area of escalating source are unquestionably not off the table. In fact, Exxon’s personal interior forecast, published by the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 25, predicts a prevailing oil rate of $50 to 55 for each barrel in excess of the future five years. Below this kind of ailments, Exxon’s dividend could once again arrive beneath force.

My verdict

With an 8% yield and snug protect in 2021, Exxon’s dividend may possibly demonstrate progressively attractive to earnings traders. A around-time period inventory rate rebound might also be on the playing cards if oil rates proceed to firm up throughout the 12 months.

Having said that, I am not certain about Exxon’s potential clients about the very long operate. Its upcoming is at the mercy of prevailing oil charges. Even further desire shocks, in addition to secular supply increases, could effectively undermine the price of oil. That could confirm problematic for Exxon’s generous dividend. What’s more, slicing again on development investments may perhaps pressure income stream in the a long time in advance.

In my evaluation, traders would do very well to watch Morgan Stanley’s fresh new optimism with a balanced dose of skepticism. Exxon’s long run may well demonstrate brighter than its modern past, but it could properly slide short of bulls’ anticipations.

Disclosure: No positions.

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About the writer:

John Engle

John Engle is president of Almington Money Merchant Bankers and main financial commitment officer of the Hashish Funds Group. John specializes in worth and special problem tactics. He holds a bachelor’s diploma in economics from Trinity College or university Dublin, a diploma in finance from the London Faculty of Economics and an MBA from the University of Oxford.

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