The Motley Fool

Why Dragon Oil plc & Cairn Energy PLC Are Outperforming Tullow Oil plc, Premier Oil PLC & Ithaca Energy Inc.

The price of oil has fallen by more than 50% over the last six months, but not all oil companies are suffering equally.

Here’s how the share prices of five major UK-listed exploration and production companies have fallen since July 2014:

Company

6 month share price movt

Premier Oil (LSE: PMO)

-58%

Ithaca Energy (LSE: IAE)

-57%

Tullow Oil (LSE: TLW)

-53%

Dragon Oil (LSE: DGO)

-18%

Cairn Energy (LSE: CNE)

-13%

Premier, Tullow and Ithaca have seen their share prices fall broadly in line with the price of crude oil, but Dragon Oil and Cairn Energy have coped relatively well, significantly outperforming the price of oil.

Why?

One reason Dragon and Cairn have done so well is that they have massive net cash balances, which account for around half of each company’s market capitalisation:

Company

Net cash

Market cap

Dragon Oil

£1,248m

£2,380m

Cairn Energy

£575m

£925m

Unlike oil, cash hasn’t fallen in value over the last six months.

However, it’s a different story at the other three firms, all of which have significant debt that will need servicing, despite reduced cash flow from oil sales:

Company

Net debt

Market cap

Premier Oil

£1,400m

£692m

Tullow Oil

£2,118m

£3,520m

Ithaca Energy

£505m

£206m

It’s not just about cash

These figures highlight how debt can become a painful burden when the market turns against a company — but cash isn’t the only reason why Dragon and Cairn are outperforming the market.

Tullow, Premier and Ithaca are all in the middle of major capital expenditure programmes, which were planned when $100 oil seemed normal. These must now be completed, but payback from new production revenues could take much longer than expected, unless oil prices rebound strongly.

Cairn is also in the middle of developing the Kraken and Catcher fields in the North Sea, and has a multi-well drilling programme planned for 2015, but the difference is that all of this is being funded from net cash.

This means that even if the eventual cash flow is less than expected, it will drop straight through to profits, rather than being used to repay debt. It’s a similar story at Dragon, where all capex is funded from cash, and existing production is very low cost.

Two big buying opportunities

All of this leaves these firms trading on a wide range of forecast valuations:

Company

2015 forecast P/E

Cairn Energy

n/a (expected to make a loss)

Tullow Oil

20.9

Dragon Oil

6.5

Premier Oil

6.0

Ithaca Energy

3.1

In my view, there are two big buying opportunities in today’s market: Dragon Oil and Ithaca Energy.

Dragon boasts a cash-backed 6.0% prospective yield and profitable low-cost production. However, upside could be limited, as the shares haven’t fallen very far, and the firm’s majority shareholder will prevent a takeover bid.

In contrast, I think Ithaca could potentially double in value towards the end of 2015, when production comes on stream from the firm’s Stella project. This is expected to increase Ithaca’s production from 12,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) to 28,000 boepd.

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Roland Head owns shares in Dragon Oil. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Tullow Oil. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.