(Reuters) – J.P. Morgan analysts on Wednesday raised their rating on shares of Exxon Mobil to overweight, its first outright “buy” recommendation for the oil major in seven years, saying cuts in capital spending had put it on track for a stronger performance.
Analyst Phil Gresh, rated five for estimate accuracy, praised Exxon’s promise to limit capex at $20 billion to $25 billion until 2025 and raised his price target for the stock from $50 to $56, above Tuesday’s closing price of $47.87.
In a note to clients, Gresh and his colleagues also said their confidence in Exxon’s ability to deliver on market expectations for earnings had grown after a series of results-day disappointments in recent years.
Morgan Stanley on Monday upgraded Exxon’s rating to overweight from equal-weight, saying it preferred the company to Chevron Corp for 2021.
That contrasts with Exxon’s symbolic demotion late last year out of the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrials Index. Chevron is still a part of the index.
“We think that improved transparency, cost-reduction actions and increased investor pressure could all serve to push XOM to put up more consistent results,” the JPM team wrote.
Gresh also said the company’s aggressive approach to capital and operational expenses, reinforced with downstream and chemicals markets recovery, should allow it to cover its dividend with Brent crude prices in the low-$50s.
After a hammering in February due to the coronavirus crisis and a standoff between Saudi Arabia and Russia, Brent hovered around $57 on Wednesday.
“As we sit here today, we think that the bar is materially lower, execution might finally be turning a corner, 2021 consensus is too low, the >7% dividend yield is more secure and valuation is more reasonable,” J.P. Morgan said.
Exxon shares rose 0.8% to $48.27 in trading before the bell.