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With most of earnings season in the rearview mirror and the price of crude oil stabilized in the mid $40s, Jim Cramer decided it was time to pick among the rubble of oil stocks. The first group he looked at was companies that were able to best navigate through the commodity collapse in the past 18 months.
"Even though the oil stocks have rebounded nicely from their late-August lows, the group is still down dramatically," the "Mad Money " host said.
When Cramer researched the cohort, he found that there was a very clear division between two groups of companies. First was the traditional integrated oil giants like Exxon or Chevron, and the second were the oil companies that decided to break themselves up in the last few years to separate core exploration and production operations—think Phillips 66 or Marathon Oil.
Back when the price of black gold was soaring, many companies assumed the price would stay high, and therefore thought it would be a great idea to break up to unlock further value. But then oil prices dropped dramatically and it turns out that breaking up may not have been the best strategy.
As an example, Cramer took a look at ExxonMobil and Chevron, versus Marathon and Conoco. It became obvious to him that Exxon and Chevron made the right decision to stay integrated, because Conoco and Marathon Oil's stocks have been totally crushed without their downstream assets to offset the weakness of the price of oil.
Read more from Mad Money with Jim Cramer
This was also demonstrated in the stock performance, as the companies that stayed together fell between 15 and 27 percent from their June 2014 peaks. Marathon and Conoco, though, have been annihilated down 51 and 34 percent over the same time period.
"Given where we are right now, I would much rather own the stock of a big integrated oil like Exxon or Chevron, rather than the remaining exploration and production focused arms of the broken up Marathon or Conoco," Cramer said. (Tweet This)
The large integrated business model may seem unwise when times are good, but in tough times in the oil patch, they can look like the stuff that only dreams are made of.