Conoco's second-quarter report before the bell yesterday marked the first time in the past four quarters that its profits did not increase over the year-ago period. However, Conoco also benefited from one-time gains from the sale of assets last year, which helped boost earnings, so on a comparative basis this was another stellar report.
For the quarter, Conoco reported revenue of $67 billion, which handily beat the consensus estimate of $60.3 billion, with earnings coming in at $2.41 per share, beating the consensus by $0.21. Favorable price realizations and better refining margins were the main drivers fueling Conoco's growth during the quarter.
Perhaps even more intriguing than the company's $6.3 billion in cash that it generated from operations are the steps it has taken to unlock shareholder value. During the quarter, Conoco repurchased 42 million shares of common stock. Since the company's buyback program started in 2010, approximately 9% of the company's stock has been repurchased. By investing directly into the company, Conoco not only implies that its shares are undervalued, but it lowers the total shares outstanding against which future earnings reports are compared.
Conoco also reaffirmed plans it released two weeks ago that it's set to split the company into two parts: an upstream oil and gas exploration company and a downstream refining company. The reasoning behind the proposed split is to unlock shareholder value by giving shareholders access to the considerably more volatile refining portion of Conoco's business. I for one am a big proponent of the split and feel it will indeed unlock shareholder value.
Still, Conoco's earnings report wasn't without its own set of "spills." During the quarter, the company produced the equivalent of 1.64 million barrels of oil per day. This may seem like a lot, but Conoco isn't forecasting that this number will grow for many future quarters. The company will be forced to rely on higher price realizations and historically high refiner margins to keep up its earnings momentum. Also, refining margins saw a nice boost during the quarter, but the refining crude oil capacity utilization ratio fell to 90% from 96%.
In all, this was another solid report. Conoco's recent dividend growth is unparalleled relative to its peers, with its current yield of 3.5% and its annual dividend growth rate of 12.9% over the past five years easily surpassing rivals ExxonMobil (current yield 2.1%, 5-year dividend growth rate 8%) and Chevron (current yield 2.9%, 5-year dividend growth rate 8.5%). Make no mistake about it, ConocoPhillips isn't a get-rich-quick type of stock, but it could make for a great long-term investment.
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