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Upstream Stocks' Q1 Earnings to Watch: XEC, CXO, MUR, NBL

Crude stocks have been getting crushed for over one-and-a-half years. Among the different types of energy players whose market capitalization has witnessed a sheer drop, exploration and production (E&P) companies are the most striking. While these upstream firms are more sensitive to price changes in oil and gas, they also stand to profit greatly from a price increase in the commodities. When investing in such stocks, you’ll want to choose companies that are not financially distressed. This is because there is no certainty as to when the energy rally will start, or if the current prices are even sustainable.

Investors are perturbed owing to the fact that for almost throughout first-quarter 2016 crude prices traded significantly below the $40-per-barrel level. Most importantly, WTI crude fell to the 12-year low mark of below $27 per barrel in mid February. The low levels were owing to plentiful supplies and lackluster demand. This was aptly echoed by the weekly release of Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. BHI that reported the sixth consecutive record fall in U.S. rig count.

What’s more, given the absence of major production cuts from OPEC, the effect of booming shale supplies in North America and a stagnant European economy, we do not expect much upside in the commodity’s prices in the near term.

The prevailing trend in the oil and energy sector is well outlined in the Zacks Earnings Trend report. As of Friday, Apr 29, 44.7% of the oil and energy companies had reported Q1 earnings. These stocks account for 71.8% of the total market capitalization. Total earnings for these index members plunged 96.8% from the year-ago period on a 29.4% decline in revenues.

Definitely the scenario was unfavorable for the upstream energy players that include oil and gas exploration and production companies, and drilling and oilfield services players. This is because oil price has a positive correlation with the operations of these companies.

Given the persistent weakness in commodity prices, investors are eager to find out how oil and natural gas stocks will fare this earnings season. Let’s take a look at the expected earnings performance of four upstream companies that are scheduled to post Q1 tomorrow, May 4.

Cimarex Energy Co. XEC has an Earnings ESP of -2.56% and Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Though a favorable Zacks Rank increases the predictive power of ESP, a negative ESP complicates our surprise prediction. The commodity price weaknesses will likely put the company’s profit margins under pressure.

Last quarter, the company delivered a negative surprise of 8.70% owing to the challenges from a steep drop in oil price. Also, the company failed to meet the Zacks Consensus Estimate in three of the past four quarters. However, the company managed an average beat of 38.82%. We’ll have to wait and see whether the company can pull a surprise. (Read more: What's Up at Cimarex Energy This Earnings Season?)

 Concho Resources, Inc. CXO has an Earnings ESP of 0.00% and Zacks Rank #3. Though a favorable Zacks Rank increases the predictive power of ESP, the company’s ESP of 0.00% makes surprise prediction difficult. Like any other energy player − primarily involved in exploration, development and production of crude oil − the fate of Concho Resources’ business is directly correlated with crude prices. Continued weakness in commodity prices has significantly affected the company’s revenues, earnings and cash flows.

In the preceding three-month period, the Midland, TX-based upstream player delivered a negative earnings surprise of 275.00% on oil’s protracted decline. As far as the earnings surprise history is concerned, the company has a good record: it beat estimates in three of the last four quarters. We’ll have to wait and see whether the company can keep its surprise streak alive. (Read more: Can Concho Resources Q1 Earnings Surprise?)

Murphy Oil Corporation MUR has an Earnings ESP of +24.14% and Zacks Rank #3. Our proven model shows that Murphy Oil is likely to beat on earnings because it has the right combination of the two key ingredients.  
 
In the preceding three-month period, the company delivered a positive earnings surprise of 33.91%. Moreover, Murphy Oil has undertaken cost-saving initiatives which should continue to benefit it in 2016. The company also aims to reduce its total exploration expense to $22 million in the first quarter of 2016, significantly lower than the prior-year level. These actions are expected to boost its performance in the to-be reported quarter. (Read more: Murphy Oil Q1 Earnings: Stock to Pull a Surprise?)

 Noble Energy, Inc. NBL carries a Zacks Rank #3. Though a favorable Zacks Rank increases the predictive power of ESP, Range Resources’ ESP of -5.66% makes surprise prediction difficult.

In the prior quarter, this independent energy company reported a positive surprise of 1,200.0%. Depressed commodity prices are a serious concern for the players in the oil & natural gas space. To cope with low prices, Noble Energy is aggressively cutting down capital expenditure and focusing only on areas that hold long-term prospects. (Read more: What's in Store for Noble Energy in Q1 Earnings?)

Don’t miss out on our full earnings release articles for these two oil refining stocks, as the actual results might hold some surprises!

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BAKER-HUGHES (BHI): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
NOBLE ENERGY (NBL): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
CONCHO RESOURCS (CXO): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
CIMAREX ENERGY (XEC): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
MURPHY OIL (MUR): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
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