I keep thinking back to that conference call where Action Alerts PLUS charity portfolio holding EOG Resources (EOG), one of the few oil companies that truly did BEAT the estimates, said it still didn't see any bargains in the oil patch and it was going to keep its powder dry and its marginal wells plugged until you get higher prices.
It seemed to make little sense. How can there not be value among these companies that look like zombies? But the answer is that EOG doesn't want to deal with any company that's in trouble, because that means there is no bargain.
Yet let me give you a dozen companies that last year at this time seemed like they could be very exciting prospects, companies that were riding high because oil was riding high, at slightly north of $100 a barrel.
Look at the destruction of this dirty dozen:
- Bill Barrett (BBG): $23 to $4
- Chesapeake (CHK): $24 to $7
- Encana (ECA): $23 to $6
- Energy XXI (EXXI): $16 to $1.70
- Goodrich Petroleum (GDP): $21 to $0.80
- Linn Energy (LINE): $30 to $3
- Magnum Hunter (MHR): $6.40 to $0.97
- Sanchez (SN): $32 to $7
- SandRidge (SD): $5.2 to $0.50
- Ultra (UPL): $24 to $7
- Whiting (WLL): $86 to $18
- WPX Energy (WPX): $26 to $8
So now put yourself in the shoes of EOG. The one thing it has paid to do all the way down is to watch. The trajectories here are pretty out of control negative, while the money on the sidelines that wants in remains high.
The last thing you want to do is go in now and start bidding for a company which, if you wait, might just disappear if everyone's so right about where oil is going.
As long as these companies are alive, meaning as long as they still trade and haven't been de-listed, I bet they think that oil's going to go higher and they don't want to sell out down here. At the same time the pull is pretty ineluctable.
What's amazing is that many of these companies have very superior assets. You could scoop up a bunch of them for the price of what you would have had to pay for one of them a year ago. But they do not tempt EOG, even as EOG thinks oil's going to come back later in the year.
I think they just don't want to go against all of the silly private equity money that might step up if they try to make a move. Better to wait until the debt is restructured and you don't have to pay full price on that either.
I point out EOG for one particular reason: they are the most bullish about next year of any of the oil companies that I listened to this quarter. So you have to think that they would be afraid that one or all of these stocks will come back if oil comes back.
Nevertheless, they aren't afraid of missing anything. Which leads me to the conclusion that EOG believes that oil will move back up to the $60s, but only because many of these companies won't be able to make it, and they will be picked up for a song.