Apache Is Ready for a Gusher

By Mara Der Hovanesian

Energy stocks: Been there, done that? Not so fast. "Most people believe it's over and done with," says Susan Byrne, money manager for Westwood Management, which oversees $4 billion. "But we're expecting a much longer period of growth and profitability." Why? Because demand will spike and supply won't cover the needs.

That's where astute energy producers such as Apache (APA ) come in, says Byrne. Westwood holds the stock in most accounts, including the $250 million Gabelli Westwood Equity Fund. For years, the Houston outfit has been building up its natural-gas and coal reserves, funding acquisitions with equity offerings. Analysts say it got the reserves for a song, compared with the cost of building them from scratch. The result: "very strong positive earnings surprises," says Byrne. First Call's consensus estimate for first-quarter 2001 earnings (to be released Apr. 26) is $2.12 per share and $7.20 for the year 2001. Byrne's own forecast is $2.50 for the quarter and $8.25 for the year.

The stock, trading at 62, sells at a price-earnings ratio of only 7.5, based on Byrne's estimate for this year's earnings: her near-term target is 80. Christopher Wolfe, equity strategist at J.P. Morgan Chase, has a 12-month target of 90.

Gene Marcial is on vacation.

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