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Exxon Mobil doesn't plan to cut its natural gas spending any time soon, meaning reduced cash flow and limited upside to the stock over the next 12 months, Cowen told its clients Friday.
Analyst Jason Gabelman downgraded the energy giant to market perform from outperform and wrote that while its investments in natural gas may mean more cash in the future, current shareholders are likely to see dividend growth slow.
"Exxon Mobil's counter-cyclical investment decision may look prescient in future years, but we do not believe the investor community is willing to place that same bet today and are downgrading the stock as a result," Gabelman wrote in a note. The analyst also cut his 12-month price target to $75 from $100, a 25 percent reduction that implies the stock will fall 6 percent over the next year.
The downgrade to the Dow component comes two days after Exxon issued new financial guidance and said its profit potential and ability to generate cash look better than they did last year. But the stock price slumped after the company warned investors about an uptick in spending in coming years.
Exxon expects its capital spending to grow by $4 billion this year, to $30 billion. Next year, the company expects to spend $33 billion to $35 billion, and $30 billion to $35 billion in the following years through 2025.
"Exxon Mobil should continue to grow its dividend, though potentially by a lower rate than the greater than 5 percent compounded annual growth rate over the past five years," Gabelman said. Its "dividend yield has increased 10 of the past 12 years and averaged the highest level of the 2000s in 2018."
Shares of Exxon fell more than 1.4 percent Friday following the Cowen downgrade, its worst day since the stock market's Christmas Eve sell-off. The stock is up more than 17 percent in 2019.
— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed reporting.