The oil markets appear to have successfully scaled a major wall of worry, with oil prices rebounding to multi-year highs. Brent crude is creeping closer to the magical number of $80/bbl, its best level since October 2018, while WTI was quoted at $75.51/bbl on Monday intraday trading, scoring the highest settlement since July. Behind the bullishness is growing optimism that looming debt trouble at China Evergrande Group (OTCPK:EGRNF) (OTCPK:EGRNY) can be contained, coupled with a lack of any hawkish surprises by the Federal Reserve.
Oil and gas stocks have followed suit, with the energy sector's broad benchmark, the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLE), up 34.3% year-to-date.
But Big Oil stocks have nothing on their smaller brethren.
The small-cap favorite benchmark, the PowerShares S&P SmallCap Energy (PSCE), has nearly doubled the gains by large oil stocks with a 63.1% YTD return, a sharp turnaround from the situation last year.
This comes to nobody's surprise, really, since small-cap oil and gas stocks tend to underperform during bust cycles due to their higher leverage, but also outperform during boom cycles.
Here are the best-performing small-cap oil stocks so far this year, but caution is necessary because in today's market, "performing well" doesn't necessarily mean what it used to before the retail investor craze.
#1. Invesco S&P SmallCap Energy ETF
YTD Returns: 63.1% The Invesco S&P SmallCap Energy ETF (NASDAQ:PSCE) is an exchange-traded fund launched and managed by Invesco Capital Management LLC. The fund invests in small-cap growth and value stocks of energy companies and seeks to track the performance of the S&P SmallCap 600 Capped Energy Index, by using full replication techniques. Related: Could Oil Pipelines Solve America’s Water Crisis?
PSCE provides investors with exposure to small-cap U.S. energy stocks engaged in the production, distribution, or servicing of energy-related products. Outside of PSCE's returns, the fund also has $132M assets under management, an expense ratio of 0.29%, and 33 holdings.
Top 5 Holdings are:
- PDC Energy Inc--9.81%
- Range Resources Corp--8.98%
- Matador Resources Co--7.47%
- Southwestern Energy Co--6.99%
- Helmerich & Payne Inc.--6.87%
#2. Ring Energy
Market Cap: $263.3M
YTD Returns: 301.6%
Ring Energy, Inc. (NYSE:REI), is an exploration and production company that engages in the acquisition, exploration, development, and production of oil and natural gas in Texas and New Mexico.
As of December 31, 2020, the company proved reserves consisted of approximately 76.5 million barrels of oil equivalent(BOE) as well as interests in 45,000 net developed acres and another 31,700 net undeveloped acres. Ring Energy, Inc. primarily sells its oil and natural gas production to end users, marketers, and other purchasers.
In April 2020, REI announced that it had entered into a purchase and sale agreement on its Delaware Basin Acreage consisting of approximately 20,000 net acres with a sale price of $31.5 million.
The company has received a $500,000 non-refundable deposit, and had received $5.5 million in non-refundable deposits, or 17% of the original purchase price, by the time the deal fell through in October 2020.
The considerable non-refundable deposits that Ring Energy received painted it in a good light by proving the value of its assets to shareholders. The company is also likely to receive considerably more for the same asset in the future, given that oil prices have climbed more than 30% since then.
#3.Range Resources Corporation
Market Cap: $4.9B
YTD Share Returns: 204.2%%
Operating in the gas-rich Marcellus Formation in Texas, Range Resources (NYSE:RRC) is the 8th largest U.S. shale gas producer. As of December 31, 2020, the company owned and operated 1,310 net producing wells and approximately 781,000 net acres under lease located in the Appalachian region of the northeastern United States. The company's acreage is superior to that of most of its peers, which allows it to enjoy a lower decline rate and more efficient operations.
Recently, Morgan Stanley picked Range Resources together with its shale gas peer Antero Resources (NYSE:AR) as their favorite gas stocks because their outsized exposure to liquids still makes sense with the growing prospects of a propane supply squeeze. Propane's trading at 75% of WTI, significantly above the more typical low 50s percentage for this time of year, with the Wall Street bank remaining bullish on LPG prices.
#4. Matador Resources Company
Market Cap: $3.9B
YTD Returns: 177.8% Dallas-based Matador Resources Company (NYSE:MTDR) is an independent energy company engaged in the exploration, development, production, and acquisition of oil and natural gas resources in the United States. It operates in two segments, Exploration and Production(E&P) and Midstream. The company primarily holds interests in the Wolfcamp and Bone Spring plays in the Delaware Basin in Southeast New Mexico and West Texas. It also operates the Eagle Ford shale play in South Texas and the Haynesville shale and Cotton Valley plays in Northwest Louisiana.
As of December 31, 2020, Matador had an estimated total proved oil and natural gas reserves of 270.3 million barrels of oil equivalent, including 159.9 million stock tank barrels of oil and 662.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
A couple of weeks ago, J.P. Morgan and upgraded Matador Resources (NYSE:MTDR) Overweight from Neutral in part due to continued operational outperformance.
#5. PDC Energy
Market Cap: $4.6B
YTD Returns: 128.9%
J.P. Morgan recently picked seven narratives playing out in oil and gas E&Ps. One of J.P. Morgan's fall "playbook" for oil and gas exploration and production companies are those with the highest potential return of "significant" levels of free cash flow to equity holders--rather than merely using it for reducing debt, as most oil and gas companies have done this year. Indeed, JPM says that since the end of 2020, companies in the firm's coverage group have cut net debt by $9.65 billion through balance sheets of June 30.
PDC Energy (NASDAQ:PDCE) is one such company that has announced cash return strategies beyond normal dividends.
PDC Energy is an independent exploration and production company that produces crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids in the United States. The company's operations are primarily located in the Wattenberg Field in Colorado and the Delaware Basin in Texas. As of December 31, 2020, it owned interests in approximately 3,727 productive gross wells.
JPM also favors PDCE as a top pick because:
"We think that the current price environment remains a 'sweet spot,' with demand gradually recovering from COVID-19 and the OPEC/shale market share war remaining fairly subdued largely driven by public company shale discipline."
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com
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