Royal Dutch Shell vs BP: which oil stock would I buy now?

Oil stocks have significantly underperformed the FTSE 100 this year. Nevertheless, with oil prices rising again, should investors buy either Shell or BP shares?

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Oil stocks have significantly underperformed the market this year. Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB) has fallen around 54%, while its counterpart BP (LSE: BP) has seen a drop of around 47%. Nonetheless, with Brent Crude now priced above $45, investing in oil stocks looks a far more attractive proposition than it did a couple of months ago. As a result, are BP and Royal Dutch Shell buys at their current prices, and which one is the best pick?

Royal Dutch Shell

Second-quarter earnings for the oil major were understandably very poor. In fact, after an impairment charge of $16.8bn, net income came to a loss of $18.1bn. On the face of it, these earnings paint a very gloomy picture. As such, it’s clear why the Shell share price has fallen nearly 20% since.

Nevertheless, upon further inspection of the earnings, there are a number of positives to take away. For example, on an adjusted earnings basis, the oil stock actually made $638m. While adjusted earnings exclude one-off items and can potentially just ignore all the ‘bad stuff’, it’s still a great sign to see the company making a good profit in this challenging quarter. It also had positive cash flow of $243m. Although this does not cover the dividend as yet, I’m still encouraged that it’s in positive territory. This was mainly the result of the company reducing capital expenditures.

Consequently, with average oil prices under $30 for the second quarter, I feel the worst may be over for Shell. With third-quarter results due at the end of October, a significant improvement could therefore be met with a sharp increase in the share price.

BP

After both cutting its dividend and announcing further investment into renewable energy, BP shares have fallen 13%. Of course, this does reflect the fact that the oil stock made an underlying loss of $6.7bn.

Even so, the news has not been all negative for BP. For example, the firm has managed to strengthen its finances by issuing $11.9bn in hybrid bonds. Net debt has also been reduced by over $10bn since the first quarter, and this has subsequently seen gearing reduce by 3% to 33%. This contrasts with Shell, where net debt increased by $3bn following the first quarter.

Despite the dividend cut, BP also has a greater dividend yield than Shell. In fact, the dividend is currently yielding around 6%, and there is no indication of a further cut. Instead, management has stated that once BP’s balance sheet has been deleveraged, it can start to return more money to shareholders through share buybacks.

Which oil stock would I buy?

Sitting at prices of 1,085p and 260p respectively, both of these oil stocks look very good value. As a result, I’ve actually invested in both Shell and BP, in anticipation of an oil recovery. If I were forced to choose just one however, I believe that BP offers the most upside potential. Although its transition to greener energy could hit profits in the short term, I think its long-term strategy should help its recovery prospects.

Should you invest, the value of your investment may rise or fall and your capital is at risk. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be assessed. Consider taking independent financial advice.

Stuart Blair owns shares in Royal Dutch Shell and BP. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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