No two ways about it: Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) has disappointed investors mightily this past year.
The mere 7% rise in price in the world’s premier “oil stock” works out to less than half the gains seen elsewhere on the S&P 500. It’s risen less than half as high as archrival Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX). Indeed, Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) stock has even underperformed BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP) — and last I heard, Exxon hasn’t blown up any gulf oil platforms lately.
But why is Exxon underperforming, and why might its laggard performance continue for longer than investors expect? Three reasons.
Exxon costs too much
When you stack up Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) stock against its somewhat smaller rivals, it’s immediately clear that Exxon shares cost more than its peers. Valued on forward earnings, Exxon shares sell for a 15% premium to Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX)’s, and cost a whopping 51% more than BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP).
The overvaluation is apparent, too, when valuing the shares on trailing earnings, where Exxon’s 9.2 P/E ratio tops Chevron’s 8.9 and sells for a 53% premium to the 6 P/E at BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP).
Exxon grows too slow …
Now, this higher P/E ratio might be forgivable if Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) was an obviously superior stock, with obviously brighter prospects than its peers. It’s not. Indeed, as this next chart shows, Exxon’s projected earnings growth rate over the next five years isn’t very much better than what’s expected out of Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) — and lags BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP)’s projected pace quite badly.
… and it’s been growing slow for quite some time
Can we trust these analyst estimates to be accurate? Maybe not entirely. Crystal balls being both expensive, and notoriously hard to read, it’s certainly possible the analysts’ projected growth rates for BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP), Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX), and Exxon might be off by a point or two.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that the projections for the next five years’ earnings do line up pretty well with what we’ve already seen in these companies’ sales trends over the past five years.
So if past is prelude, it’s not all that hard to believe that the biggest oil company in the world might struggle to get even bigger, faster than its peers.