Barclays says it's rare to get a big dividend payer like Exxon for this cheap; upgrades stock

Key Points
  • Barclays upgrades Exxon Mobil shares to overweight and maintains its price target of $94.
  • The bank says Exxon has potential for upside after a period of underperformance.
  • Exxon currently has a high dividend yield relative to the S&P 500, Barclays adds.
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Barclays on Tuesday upgraded shares of Exxon Mobil to overweight, saying the oil major's stock price appears to have bottomed and it now looks attractive compared with its peers and the broader market's payout to shareholders.

The bank maintained its $94 price target on Exxon's stock, compared with an average target price of $85.94, according to Factset. Shares closed at $80.16 on Monday, about a dollar above the 52-week low of $79.26 on June 2. On Tuesday, it was up slightly, at $80.48.

"In our view, the high-$70s to low-$80s recent share price range reflects a durable support level — from a fundamental and technical perspective," Barclays said.

The bank boiled down its view to Exxon's "leading near-term position" in the low commodity price environment and its potential for upside after a period of underperformance. Barclays also cited Exxon's long-term focus on developing liquefied natural gas facilities and increased diversification into petrochemicals, which it says boosts the oil giant's valuation in a number possible future scenarios.

Exxon has lagged its peers by about 4 percent following surprise write downs of certain assets this year, Barclays noted.

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However, looking at the company's share price versus its net asset value — the fair market value of its assets minus liabilities — the bank found Exxon is at its cheapest relative position to its peer group since the oil price downturn began in 2014.

While Exxon will benefit less from a sharp increase in oil prices than competitors like Chevron and ConocoPhillips, "the current valuation offers ample low-risk compensation," Barclays said.

"This is especially true if negative industry sentiment persists in the near-term," prompting investors to once again turn to Exxon, a reliable dividend-payer, as a safe haven, the bank said.

Barclays notes that Exxon's dividend yield is currently more than 1.8 times above the S&P 500's yield. This has only happened in about 5 percent of trading days over the course of the last 26 years, according to the bank's analysis. In these occurrences, Exxon and the energy sector outperformed the S&P by "escalating magnitudes" over the next one-, three- and 12-month periods, Barclays said.