13 diciembre 2006

Merrill Lynch recomienda petroleras y gas

Industry leaders Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX ) are trading at their highest levels ever and according to a new report Monday published by Merrill Lynch, they still have room to grow.

"We still view [integrated-oil companies] as being fundamentally undervalued vs. the market and have increased prices objectives" for Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, wrote John Herrlin in a note to clients.

Herrlin raised Exxon's price objective to $86 a share from $78 and Chevron's to $80 from $74.50. ConocoPhillips' objective was raised 12% to $83 from $74.

Share-price objectives were raised even as Merrill analyst Francisco Blanch lowered next year's oil forecast to $60 a barrel from $65 a barrel, citing lower global-oil demand and rising oil supplies from non-OPEC members such as Brazil and former Soviet regions.

However, moving into 2008, Merril Lynch raised its oil price estimate to $62 a barrel from $50 a barrel.

"We have forecast higher prices to return in 2008 (demand led) and long term given greater reserve-conversion costs. The days of cheap oil are over," according to Herrlin.

According to Merrill analysts, integrated-oil shares didn't fully reflect peak-oil prices in 2006. Furthermore, lower oil prices forecast for next year won't necessarily cause the sector to lag the broader market, given the potential for growing demand.

"From a strict relative-value perspective," Herrlin said that he liked ConocoPhillips, Hess Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp. "For the larger integrateds, Exxon and Chevron remain attractive, even after having posted large runs in 2006."

Exxon shares reached a new peak last week, trading at an intraday high of $78.52 on Dec. 5. Chevron attained a new high on Dec. 6, trading hands at $74.41.

Merrill Lynch upgraded four large-cap, North American exploration and production companies, saying that the companies stand to benefit as higher oil prices drive up demand for natural gas. Anadarko Petroleum Co. (APC ), Noble Energy Inc. (NBL), Encana Corp. (ECA) and Canadian Natural Resources Inc. (CNQ) were upgraded to buy from neutral.

Despite recent concerns that North American natural-gas supplies have surpassed demand, the market is due to tighten, Merrill analysts wrote in a note.

Canadian imports, which supply 85% of U.S. natural-gas imports, are likely to fall next year, while Gulf of Mexico production has tapered off, which should support natural-gas prices regardless of the direction of the U.S. economy.

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