These days, a large number of investors in the energy industry are overly focused on the natural gas boom in the United States. A plummet in gas prices is altering the strategies of firms with operations focused on domestic exploration and production activities. In this environment, balance across a number of geographies is looking like a smart strategy, and happens to be one employed by Apache Corp (NYSE:APA).
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Apache seeks to balance its portfolio of energy assets and diversify its risk by geography, a mix of oil and natural gas producing properties, and reserve life. It has a solid track record of acquiring existing exploration and production properties and exploiting them to their fullest production potential. It has been active so far this year. In January, it announced the $439 million purchase of a 49% interest in an ammonia fertilizer plant in Australia and a multi-billion purchase of private firm Cordillera Energy Partners and its Central Anadarko basin. Past purchases have been from energy giant Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) and BP (NYSE:BP)
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During its first quarter, Apache touted the fact that its "diverse portfolio of worldwide assets enabled the company to post strong financial results despite low North American natural gas prices." During the quarter, revenue increased 15.6% to $4.5 billion. Reported net income fell more than 30% to $778 million, or $2 per diluted share, but estimated that earnings would have come in closer to $3 per share, or a dime ahead of 2011's first quarter when backing out charges to lower the value of natural gas properties in Canada.
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Outlook and Valuation
For the full year, analysts project total revenue growth north of 9% and total revenues just shy of $18.5 billion. The average earnings estimate currently stands at $12.12 per share. For 2013, revenue growth is projected to be slightly stronger at 10% for total sales north of $20 billion and earnings are pegged at $13.32 per share. This represents forward P/E of 6.8 and 6.2, respectively.
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The Bottom Line
Apache's forward P/E ratios are well below both the industry and market averages that are closer to the mid-teens. Such a discount looks unwarranted given Apache's solid track record and conservative management team. In contrast, Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), which remains concentrated on domestic natural gas activity, is garnering outsized attention lately and suffering along with low natural gas prices. The same can be said for Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN). But Apache is just as cheap on and earnings basis and has a diversified revenue stream that can't be hit by depressed energy prices in one certain region of the world.
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At the time of writing, Ryan C. Fuhrmann did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.