3 Oil Stocks We're Watching This Week

By Markets Fool.com

Earnings season is in full swing, which means a lot of coffee and late nights for our energy analysts. This week is expected to be a big week in the energy patch, with several notable oil companies expected to report. Here are the three we'll be watching closest this week.

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Tyler Crowe:If you're watching companies in the energy sector, then it should almost be mandatory to see what ExxonMobil's earnings look like when it reports later this week. Obviously, earnings expectations are muted for the company since oil and gas prices are where they are, but knowing how ExxonMobil is handling the downturn is extremely important to know what might happen to other oil and gas producers out there.

ExxonMobil is known for its much more conservative investment strategy. There is no better example of this than the price at which it plans its production growth. As the following chart shows, ExxonMobil uses a price point for Brent oil of $55 per barrel when making its capital allocation decisions, which is much more conservative than its peers.

Company

Price Assumption for Production Guidance (Brent)

ExxonMobil

$55 per barrel

Chevron

$70 per barrel

BP

$80 per barrel (projects "stress tested" for $60)

Total

$70 per barrel

Source: Company analyst day presentations.

So what I'll be watching in particular is if there is any chance that the company changes its production outlook for the next couple of years. If so, then it's entirely possible that ExxonMobil's management sees today's oil prices sticking around much longer. If it doesn't, then it may be worth checking in with its peers because their slightly higher price assumptions will help to give a rough guide as to where we can expect oil prices to be for a while.

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Jason Hall: My favorite "Big Oil" company reports earnings on Friday:Phillips 66. What I love about this company is that it's not in the oil-drilling business. Instead, it operates in the midstream and downstream segment of the industry.

Oil producers have been hurt by the collapse in oil and natural gas prices since mid-2014, while Phillips 66 has benefited. Since U.S. and Mexican oils have been selling for well below the Brent crude benchmark that is the basis for gas, diesel, and jet fuel prices, the company's refining business has been killing it for the past couple of years, even as gas prices have fallen considerably:

Brent Crude Oil Spot Price Chart

Brent Crude Oil Spot Price data by YCharts.

Historically, this hasn't been the case, with Brent typically being cheaper than West Texas Crude until about 2011. But the WTI-Brent "spread" has been great for profits.

But I'm paying the most attention to the chemical division, a 50/50 joint venture withChevron, called CPChem. Cheap natural gas is good for this business, and the venture is making big investments in production growth on the U.S. Gulf Coast, but falling oil prices have helped foreign competitors (which use oil to make the same products) put a squeeze on prices.

While I'm not concerned about the long-term impacts, I am watching to see how the company is managing the competitive environment and what management has to say looking forward. I'm counting on the chemicals business to be the growth engine for the company over the next decade or more.

: Sticking with the Big Oil theme, I've got my eye on ConocoPhillips this week. As the largest independent oil and gas company in America (i.e., no refineries or other downstream operations as those were spun off into Phillips 66), ConocoPhillips is the most directly exposed to oil and gas prices of the trio.

As a result, the company's quarter results aren't expected to be all that great. That said, it has focused a lot of its recent attention on driving its costs lower, which could provide some upside to earnings this quarter.

In fact, one area where ConocoPhillips really excels is low-cost shale production, as it has an industry-leading cost structure we can see on the following slide.

Source: ConocoPhillips investor presentation.

Because of that, this quarter I'm keeping an eye on continued strong growth in shale production. I'd like to see the company's Eagle Ford and Bakken positions deliver better-than-expected growth as a result of its focus of efficiency and improving well results as this would improve profitability in the quarter.

In addition, I'm also watching any changes to the company's future outlook for growth. As a result of the downturn in oil prices, ConocoPhillips has made significant cuts to its capex budget, which is resulting in production growth slowing from an average rate of 3%-5% annually down to 2%-3% per year. It has said that further cuts are possible, which would keep production flat. Any sign that more spending cuts are in the cards would suggest that ConocoPhillips doesn't see a meaningful recovery in oil prices anytime soon.

The article 3 Oil Stocks We're Watching This Week originally appeared on Fool.com.

Jason Hall owns shares of Phillips 66. Matt DiLallo owns shares of ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66. Tyler Crowe owns shares of ExxonMobil. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.