Better Buy: Suncor Energy Inc. vs. Marathon Petroleum Corporation

By Markets Fool.com

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As oil and gas companies look to slowly recover from the devastating blow commodity prices threw at them from 2014 to January of this year, investors are starting to look at the prospects of companies in the industry to see if there are some great companies selling on the cheap.Marathon Petroleum andSuncor Energy are two stocks that weren't hit nearly as hard as some of their peers, but nevertheless, they're still trading at pretty significant discounts to their recent highs and may be on some investors' radars.

Is there more value in one company's shares than the other? We asked two of our contributors who are on either side of the debate to explain why they think their stock of choice is the better stock to buy today. Here's what they had to say.

Matt DiLallo: While most oil companies went on defense during the downturn, Suncor Energy went on the offensive. Thanks to a top-notch balance sheet and the relatively stable cash flow of its integrated operating model, the company was able to take advantage of the downturn to expand its reach. So far, it has spent a whopping $7 billion on acquisitions to boost its stake in two large oil sands facilities while investing billions more to fund its major growth projects.

Those investments put Suncor Energy on pace to grow its production per share by a 6% compound annual growth rate through 2019. That growth is expected to come at a great time in the oil cycle, with oil prices projected to be on the upswing over the next few years. This near-perfect timing will enable the company to cash in on its investments and deliver robust cash flow.

While Suncor has used its balance sheet to capture quite a few growth opportunities, it has not stretched itself thin. Not only does it still possess one of the strongest credit ratings in its peer group, but its total debt-to-capitalization ratio of 29.6% is still within its 20% to 30% target range. Further, that metric is poised to improve after the company completes several financial maneuverings currently under way, which include raising cash through an equity offering and non-core assets sales while also paying down higher-cost debt. These moves will enhance the company's already-strong financial position, which gives it greater flexibility to pursue additional growth opportunities.

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Suncor's combination of upside to higher oil prices and relative strength versus its peers is unmatched. It would be easy to argue that Suncor Energy should be right near the top of an investor's list of oil stocks to buy to capture the upside of an oil market recovery.

Tyler Crowe:For the most part, oil refiners are misunderstood companies. Too many investors lump them into the broader energy sector and trade them like other oil and gas producers, while others simply treat them as a natural hedge against oil prices since they tend to do well as crude oil prices decline. What always seems to get lost in the fray is the underlying business. Yet this is where Marathon Petroleum particularly stands out, and it's why the company looks like a compelling investment right now.

WhenMarathon Oilspun offMarathon Petroleum in 2011, it allowed the company to allocate all of its cash-generating ability to further investments in refining, transportation infrastructure, and retail marketing rather than having some of that cash used on the exploration side of Marathon's business. With all of this cash in hand, the company has had an incredible opportunity to reinvest in its business as well as return large chunks of cash to shareholders.

In just five years, the company has repurchased 28% of its stock outstanding and grown its dividend annually at a 28% rate -- all while investing more than $2 billion annually to upgrade its facilities and build out its logistics network. Management estimates the investments in its refining facilities have increased EBITDA by $450 million annually.

What's even more promising, though, is the company's continued investment over the next five years. By integrating its existing Texas City refinery with the one it purchased fromBPback in 2013, as well as some other optimization projects, the company expects refining alone to improve EBITDA by $1.2 billion by 2022. When you add in the steady improvement of its retail business and the increasing cash distributions from its stake inMPLX, Marathon Petroleum has a bunch of growth levers to pull over the next several years.

With shares trading at a price to earnings ratio of 9.2 times and a dividend yield of 3.8%, shares of Marathon Petroleum look modestly priced for what could be a rather solid growth investment over the next several years. If that isn't enough of a reason to think Marathon Petroleum is the better investment today, I don't know what is.

The article Better Buy: Suncor Energy Inc. vs. Marathon Petroleum Corporation originally appeared on Fool.com.

Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. Tyler Crowe has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.