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U.S. Oil Companies Produced More Oil Than any Country in History Last Year. Here Are 3 Top Oil Stocks to Buy Now

Motley Fool - Sat Mar 16, 6:42AM CDT

The U.S. produced 12.9 million barrels of oil per day (BPD) last year. That was the most crude oil produced by any country in history (and well ahead of rivals Russia, with 10.1 million BPD, and Saudi Arabia's 9.7 million BPD). It shattered the country's previous record of 12.3 million BPD in 2019. The country's output also reached a record high of 13.3 million BPD in December. No other country has come close to reaching that level. Saudi Arabia recently scrapped plans to boost its output to 13 million BPD by 2027, suggesting the U.S. will continue to reign supreme.

The U.S. oil production boom is driving growth for many top oil stocks. Occidental Petroleum(NYSE: OXY), Chevron(NYSE: CVX), and Diamondback Energy(NASDAQ: FANG) stand out as three of the top ones to buy right now for those seeking a way to cash in on the boom.

A Warren Buffett favorite

Occidental Petroleum produced an average of 1.2 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE/d) during the fourth quarter of last year. That was its highest quarterly total in over three years. The company benefited from strong production growth in the Rockies and Permian Basin, which offset weaker output in the Gulf of Mexico due to a third-party pipeline outage.

The oil company's strong production rate enabled it to generate lots of cash. It produced $5.5 billion of free cash flow for the year. That gave it the money to invest in growing its production, return cash to shareholders through a growing dividend (22% increase) and share repurchases (including some of the preferred shares owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway), and strengthen its balance sheet.

Occidental is in the process of bolstering its already strong position in the Permian Basin after it agreed to acquire CrownRock in a $12 billion deal. That purchase will boost its production rate and free cash flow. The company anticipates the deal will expand its free cash flow by $1 billion over the first year, assuming oil averages $70 a barrel (it's currently over $80). That will give it the cash to quickly repay debt so that it can return more money to shareholders. The company's strong position has made it a stock that Warren Buffett considers a potential "forever" holding.

Warren Buffett likes this oil stock, too

Chevron has also caught the attention of Warren Buffett. It's the fifth-largest holding of Berkshire Hathaway, at 5.4%. Occidental is right behind it at 4.2%. His company recently bought some more shares of Chevron.

The oil giant is coming off a record year, delivering record worldwide and U.S. oil production. It grew its total output by 4% last year, fueled by its acquisition of U.S. producer PDC Energy and a 10% increase in production from the Permian Basin. The company's growing production enabled it to produce a gusher of cash. That allowed it to send investors a record $26.3 billion to shareholders last year in dividends and share repurchases. It recently boosted its dividend by another 8%.

Chevron is investing heavily in growing its production in high-margin regions like the Permian Basin. It has also agreed to make another acquisition. It sealed a deal to buy Hess for around $60 billion. The transaction will enhance and extend its production and free-cash-flow growth outlook into the 2030s. Hess would bolster Chevron's U.S. business by adding the Bakken and enhancing its operations in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, it would give the company a stake in the oil-rich Stabroek Block offshore Guyana. While that deal isn't a sure thing, Chevron can grow just fine without it.

Becoming a behemoth in the Permian Basin

Diamondback Energy has also agreed to a megadeal to bolster its operations. It's buying Endeavor Energy Resources for $26 billion to create the premier pure-play producer in the Permian Basin. That deal will enable the company to produce more oil and free cash flow.

As a stand-alone company, Diamondback Energy expects to produce 458,000 to 466,000 BOE/d this year, with its oil output rising by around 3%. That will enable it to generate more than $3.4 billion in free cash flow, or over $19 per share, at the current oil price point of around $80 per barrel.

The Endeavor Energy Resources deal will significantly enhance its business. The combined company would produce 816,000 BOE/d this year. Meanwhile, the deal would be significantly accretive to its free cash flow. It sees the transaction boosting its free cash flow per share by around 10% next year. That would give the oil company more fuel to pay dividends and repurchase shares.

Becoming even bigger producers

Occidental Petroleum, Chevron, and Diamondback Energy have contributed to the country's rise as the world's top oil producer. The trio is working to ensure this remains the case by investing heavily in enhancing their operations and growing production. That's enabling them to produce gushing free cash flow, a big chunk of which they're returning to shareholders through dividends and repurchases. Their strategies should continue to grow value for shareholders, making them look like great buys right now.

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Matt DiLallo has positions in Berkshire Hathaway and Chevron. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Berkshire Hathaway and Chevron. The Motley Fool recommends Occidental Petroleum. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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