Market Overview

How to Play Angola's Pre-Salt Oil Boom

When most investors hear the term "pre-salt" in reference to offshore oil exploration, they likely think of Brazil. By some estimates, South America's largest economy has 50 billion barrels (maybe more) of pre-salt oil reserves sitting off its coast. Brazil's rising oil production thanks in part to pre-salt fields has helped make the country South America's second-largest oil producer behind only Venezuela and one of just five countries across the world with rising oil output.

Well, there's a new kid on the pre-salt block and it happens to be OPEC member Angola, which vies with Nigeria for the number one spot among Africa's top oil-producing nations.

Angola is slated to sign final pre-salt accords with several Western companies today, Dow Jones reported, citing a spokesman from Sonangol, Angola's state-run oil company. The Angola pre-salt investment theme is legitimate as the country's pre-salt fields have been compared to Brazil's. That means companies will be eager to team with Angola to help the country boost output.

Here's how to play the coming Angola pre-salt boom.

Cobalt Energy (NYSE: CIE) We previously mentioned Cobalt as a mid-cap oil play to watch this year. The stock has almost doubled since then and is surging today after Morgan Stanley raised its price target to $38 from $19 due to Cobalt's Angola exposure. Cobalt was among the Western firms granted licensing rights by Angola. Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) probably loves this news. The bank is a major Cobalt investor. Not to mention if Cobalt was sort of a takeover target before, Angola makes it that much more attractive to a prospective buyer.

ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) The third-largest U.S. oil company appears to be the largest of the U.S. oil majors to have won licensing rights for Angola's pre-salt finds. Angola could be a boon for ConocoPhillips when the company becomes a pure-play exploration and production firm following the spin off its downstream business later this year. Not to mention, Texas-based ConocoPhillips needs to up its oil output and reduce its natural gas exposure and Angola could help the company do just that in the coming years.

iShares S&P Global Energy ETF (NYSE: IXC) One of our favorite energy ETFs looks great as an Angola pre-slat play, especially for the indecisive investor. Seven stocks in this ETF, including ConocoPhillips and Spain's Repsol YPF (PK: REPYF), have Angola pre-salt exposure and they combine for almost 20% of the fund's weight. In other words, IXC can help investors kill multiple Angola birds with one stone.

BP (NYSE: BP) There are several things that are obvious about BP, Europe's second-largest oil company. First, the company needs to bolster production, particularly since it's going to continue selling assets. Second, the company will look for oil in some risky places, including Angola. Indeed, BP is among the Western majors to have already won pre-salt licenses in the African nation. However, more conservative investors might want to consider...

Total (NYSE: TOT) Europe's third-largest oil company joins rival BP in winning Angola licenses and this is another feather in the cap of the French company, which has been increasing its international profile in a big way recently. A better stock than BP? We'll let the market decide, but Total is less controversial and has a much higher yield at 4.9%.

Eni SpA With its hands full in Libya, Eni is looking for other African opportunities and that includes becoming an Angolan player. The Italian oil giant also yields 4.9%, but in the near-term, Libya presents more risk to this stock than Angola offers reward.

Other Angola pre-salt plays to consider: Petrobras (NYSE: PBR) and Statoil (NYSE: STO).

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