There are growing concerns among analysts that profitability in the energy patch will fall as oil prices further soften as a result of U.S. light sweet crude production’s continued growth. This in turn will keep significant downward pressure on the price of crude, with West Texas Intermediate falling 2% year to date despite ongoing supply disruptions in the Middle East.
When coupled with Canada’s pipeline crunch preventing companies in the patch from transporting crude to critical U.S. refining markets as well as rising operational costs, some are questioning whether now is the time to avoid it. However, I believe there are some solid companies that offer considerable potential value for investors, and one standout name is Cenovus Energy Inc. (TSX: CVE) (NYSE: CVE).
Let’s take a closer look at three reasons why investors should consider adding Cenovus to their portfolio.
1. Solid ongoing production growth
One of Cenovus’ most promising aspects has been its ability to grow consistently crude production, allowing it to take full advantage of the rally in oil prices earlier this year. For the second quarter of 2014, production surged an impressive 3% compared to the previous quarter and 10% against the equivalent period in the previous year.
More impressively, Cenovus continues to reduce its production weighting to lower-margin natural gas while boosting crude and natural gas liquids, which has been a key driver to improving its margins.
This is in stark contrast to troubled oil producers Talisman Energy Inc. (TSX: TLM) (NYSE: TLM), Pengrowth Energy Inc. (TSX: PGF) (NYSE:PGH), and Penn West Petroleum Ltd. (TSX: PWT) (NYSE: PWE), which continue to see production fall as they divest themselves of low-quality assets. They are also struggling to boost their production weighting to higher-value crude liquids, which is significantly impacting their operational performance, because the outlook for natural gas remains volatile, with prices expected to soften further as global production continues to grow with supply set to outstrip demand.
2. Operating margins continue to grow
Another impressive aspect of Cenovus’ operations, especially for an operator focused on heavy crude production, which trades at a considerable discount to WTI, has been its ability to steadily grow an impressive netback per barrel. For the second quarter of 2014, Cenovus reported a netback of $43.30 per barrel, which is a healthy 13% increase quarter over quarter and an impressive 30% spike year over year.
This netback is superior to many other heavy oil producers operating in the patch including Baytex Energy Corp. (TSX: BTE) (NYSE: BTE), which for the equivalent period reported a netback of $40.74 per barrel. It is also vastly superior to Pengrowth’s $23.87, Talisman’s $27.18, and Penn West’s $36.67 per barrel.
This indicates that Cenovus is well positioned to continue to operate profitably even if crude and WTI prices fall even further, and can be attributed to the company’s focus on keeping costs under control despite growing production.
3. A juicy, steadily growing dividend
One of the most appealing aspects of Cenovus for investors is its juicy 3.1% dividend yield and sustainable 68% payout ratio. This is one of the better dividend yields among Canada’s integrated energy majors — superior to all but Husky Energy Inc.’s (TSX: HSE) 3.7% yield and 60% payout ratio.
More importantly, Cenovus’ dividend keeps growing strongly, with a compound annual growth rate of 7% since inception in 2010.
Cenovus shapes up as one of the better-performing operators in the patch and, with a solid netback per barrel of crude produced, is well positioned to weather any sustained downturn in crude prices. Plus, investors will continue to be rewarded with a juicy and sustainable dividend yield, which with a relatively low payout ratio indicates there is sufficient space to absorb any drop in profitability.
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