Overcoming all manner of headwinds by playing smart and ignoring those who counted them out is the formula behind this year's comeback at Chevron Corp. (CVX), notes Roger Conrad, editor of Conrad's Utility Investor.

Like all oil and gas producers, the company has benefitted from surging energy prices as the cycle has turned up. But the “best ever reported” free cash flow was also due to opportunistic expansion at the cycle’s bottom, including the acquisition of Noble Energy that spurred a 22-fold boost in upstream profits.

The company’s ability to increase global oil and gas production by 7 percent even while cutting capital spending by 22 percent from last year also testifies to the success of its long-term investments. That includes Australia’s Gorgon LNG export facility, criticized in recent years as ill-timed and evidence of management’s inflexibility.

These projects are set to lift Chevron’s earnings for years to come. And the company will use projected $45 billion 2021-22 free cash flow to further cut debt (now just 19 percent of capital), buy back stock ($750 million in Q4) and raise dividends.

Management also managed its downstream portfolio well during the cycle’s low points. A 9 percent lift in Q3 refinery crude input and 18 percent higher refined products are in part because maintenance was done when demand was lower.

The global push to decarbonize energy has caused some to question whether Chevron’s integrated energy model has the staying power in the 21st century it did in the 20th. The now-complete rebound from the past cycle is proof positive it’s still got it.

As for decarbonization, the company is already a major player in renewable natural gas production harvested from farms, municipal waste and other sources. Refining and chemicals operations this month announced their first renewable motor oil product under the Havoline brand.

The company is expanding LNG at the Leviathan project off the Israeli coast. It’s a leader in carbon capture, utilization and storage as well as hydrogen, with 10 percent of capital spending targeted for “low carbon businesses.” The stock is recommended in our dividend reinvestment portfolio at prices up to $125.

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