3 hidden gems in the oil patch

Forget the major players for now and turn your attention to the less glamorous parts of this energy sector.

By MSNMoney partner Nov 16, 2011 1:36PM

Image: Oil pump jack, low angle view, dusk (© Seth Joel/Photographer)By Gene Marcial


Oil is hardly considered black gold anymore, with crude prices no longer shooting up into the stratosphere. But investors shouldn't give up on oil because some energy-related stocks are becoming more attractive even as Wall Street is shifting its focus away from the industry.


Forget the major oil exploration and production companies such as ExxonMobil (XOM) or Chevron (CVX) for a while and turn your attention to the less glamorous parts of the business that aren't on the radar of most investors, large and small. Companies that service and provide supplies and all types of support to the giant oil producers are the alluring hidden plays that deserve attention.


"It's an area of concentration for us now because the fundamentals of the oil-service industry, which has suffered tremendously in recent years largely because of the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, (has) started to turn around," says Michael Marino, an analyst at investment bank Stephens. The number of rigs in the Gulf has dropped from 33 earlier in 2010 to 21, so some oil-well service companies have started to feel the need to start providing more rigs and services as demand for them starts to come back.


John Keller, another oil industry analyst at Stephens, notes that the supply of rigs and services "has certainly tightened" and should remain so for the next several years, based on new demand from some of  the major oil and gas explorers for such supplies and services. So some of the oil-service companies have started to increasingly pick up new business.


Marino and Keller, however, are focusing on the little-known and small-cap companies that are not necessarily household names but that provide some kind of niche or specialized services. The companies they favor hardly catch the eye of oil industry analysts on Wall Street. But nowadays, they are among the "gems" in this part of the oil patch, according to Marino and Keller.


Hornbeck Offshore Services (HOS) provides technologically advanced offshore supply vessels to oil and gas explorers operating mainly in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Basic Energy Services (BAS) is a Texas provider of "work-over" oil drilling rigs and a range of well-stimulation and well-site construction services to oil and gas drillers and producers. And Carbo Ceramics (CRR) is the world's largest supplier of ceramic and resin-coated sand proppants used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and natural gas wells.


Hornbeck Offshore plans to build 16 offshore supply vessels and possibly another 16, depending on projected demand. Marino says Hornbeck has scheduled delivery by 2013-14 of the first 16 vessels, which are expected to serve the company's three core markets: Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and Mexico.


Marino, who rates Hornbeck, currently trading at $32 a share, as "overweight," has a 12-month price target of $45 a share, as he expects the company to earn $2.50 a share on estimated revenue of $552.2 million, versus a projected  loss in 2010 of 51 cents on sales of $368.9 million. In 2010, Hornbeck posted earnings $1.34 a share on revenue of $420.8 million.


Basic Energy, currently trading at $16 a share, is down from its 52-week high of $37.79 a share. But  the company is expected to gain from higher demand for its services in liquids drilling activity, leading to "higher well servicing segment profit margins," says Tanjila Shafi, an analyst at Standard & Poor's. He says Basic Energy will benefit specifically from increasing drilling and fracking activity in the Permian Basin, the Bakken Shale, and Eagle Ford in South Texas, where the company has well established operating bases.


"Basic Energy sees demand for pumping services growing, with rates trending higher, and it is adding to its fleet to meet these needs," says Shafi, who has a 12-month price target of $21 a share for the stock.


Carbo, whose stock is trading at $133 a share, is expected to earn $5.91 a share in 2011, and $7.35 in 2012, way up from 2010 earnings of $3.40 a share. Stephens' John Keller, who has upgraded his recommendation on CARBO to "overweight" from neutral, has  a 12-month price target of $190, above the sock's 52-week high of $183.34.


"We believe the fundamentals are in place for Carbo to drive meaningful earnings growth," Keller says. Indeed, "Carbo Ceramics is poised to have a banner 2011," says Nira Maharaj, an analyst at investment research firm Value Line. "Demand for ceramics and resin proppants will likely increase over the next three to five years," the analyst adds.

Tags: CVXoilXOM
Nov 16, 2011 3:19PM
I wouldn't call these "hidden gems."  If you follow the industry, you know about these companies already and if you do not, you need to do better research.
Nov 16, 2011 4:18PM

You missed Pioneer Drilling (PDC), it's done real well since this Summer!

Nov 16, 2011 3:47PM

Wall street speculators and oil companies are at it again. They are so greedy that they will steal the investors money by doing false fronts to mask the market and then when it gets high they will sell again and make all the money while the little investor loses all of theirs.

As I said the big investors!

Nov 16, 2011 2:51PM
Got Halliburton at a little above $33.  Hate the company, but loved the price.
Nov 16, 2011 4:53PM
 Michael Marino, John Keller, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, & the rest of big oil, small oil & all the other ****s that are part of this oil snafu thats bleeding the average Americans dry can kiss my a$$!
Nov 16, 2011 3:12PM
thier should be thousands of wells in the gulf screw the seafood. all this oil should be put in reserve for the US only to use after we use up all the oil in the rest of the world. After all the oil is used up maybe in thousands of years the whale population should be huge so we can use them for oil like was done a couple hundred years ago
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