When it comes to dealmaking among big, integrated oil companies, it’s not a question of who will do deals this year, but when, according to top-rated energy analyst Doug Terreson of Evercore ISI.
Mergers and acquisitions activity in the U.S. energy patch fell to a five-year low in the final quarter of 2015 as oil and gas companies preserved cash and entered “survival mode,” PricewaterhouseCoopers reported last week.
But by the end of the first half of this year, big oil firms likeExxonMobil, Chevron, and Royal Dutch Shell could start buying smaller companies that have been beaten up during a more than year-long oil price rout, Terreson said.
“We think they’re all going to do a big deal,” he told CNBC’s “Fast Money: Halftime Report.” “We think when you consider that [exploration and production] reserves are trading at about half the level they can find reserves for with the drill bit, there are great opportunities for these companies.”
“We also think winners and losers are going to be determined by this activity for years to come,” he added.
Six of the biggest oil companies — Chevron, Exxon, Shell,ConocoPhillips, BP and Total — collectively shed more than $200 billion in market capitalization last year, according to CNBC analysis of FactSet data.
Chevron on Friday reported a surprise earnings loss for the fourth quarter.
Exxon and BP report before the bell on Tuesday, followed by ConocoPhillips and Shell on Thursday morning. All are expected to see profits and revenues drop significantly from a year ago.
For the time being, investors should not be overly optimistic about these companies, but in the longer term, opportunity can be found in the integrated oil segment, Terreson said.
In the interim, the majors will continue to slash costs and may yet dial back oil production by as much as 5 to 10 percent for the year, but dividend payments are safe, he added. “The dividend is very important to these companies because it’s the majority of their value proposition.”
That view is not universally held. Oppenheimer senior analyst Fadel Gheit told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on Friday he believesdividends are now under threat following Chevron’s earnings miss[“source -cncb”]