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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Hess, Royal Dutch Shell, Apache, Visa and MasterCard

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For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL – October 29, 2012 – announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Hess Corporation (HES - Free Report) , Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS.A - Free Report) , Apache Corporation (APA - Free Report) , Visa Inc. (V - Free Report) and MasterCard Incorporated (MA - Free Report) .

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Here are highlights from Friday’s Analyst Blog:


Hess to Divest North Sea Fields


U.S. energy company Hess Corporation (HES - Free Report) entered into an agreement with Europe’s largest oil company Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS.A - Free Report) to sell its interest in the Beryl area fields and the Scottish Area Gas Evacuation System. Shell will pay $525 million for this deal.

The fields, which are located in the North Sea near Aberdeen, Scotland, are jointly operated by Hess Corp. with Apache Corporation (APA - Free Report) .

During the first nine months of 2012, the Beryl field produced 14,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. Shell’s current interest in the Beryl field yields 9,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. Following the acquisition, the company plans to increase production to up to 24,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.  Shell’s interest in the fields will increase in a range of 9–65%.

Last month, Hess Corp. sold its interest in Azeri, Chirag and Guneshli fields (ACG) in Azerbaijan and the BTC pipeline to ONGC Videsh Ltd. for $1 billion. Earlier this year, the company offloaded $2.4 billion worth of assets, including this transaction.

The sale is anticipated to complete in the first quarter of 2013, subject to regulatory approval.

New York City, New York-based Hess Corporation, previously known as Amerada Hess Corporation, is an integrated energy company engaged in oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) and refining as well as marketing.

Hess’ new strategy of concentrating on high-impact exploration areas compared to low risk areas; its exposure to areas with high resource potential (such as Brazil, Ghana, Libya and offshore Australia), strong growth throughout the Bakken oil shale play, along with robust holdings in the Eagle Ford Shale and the Utica Shale are expected to raise its earnings, cash flow and valuation.

However, we believe that future asset sales will likely hamper the company's production and bring down its profitability levels.

Considering the situation, we expect the stock to perform in line with other industry players and the broader market and maintain our long-term Neutral recommendation on Hess. The company retains a Zacks #3 Rank (equivalent to a short-term Hold rating).




Visa Hikes Dividend 50%


Earlier this week, Visa Inc. (V - Free Report) announced a 50% hike in its quarterly dividend to the holders of its class A, B and C equity shares. Consequently, the company will pay a quarterly dividend of 33 cents per share, up from 22 cents paid in the prior quarter.

This takes the annual cash dividend of Visa to $1.32 per share, compared with 88 cents paid earlier. Considering the closing share price of $136.49 on October 24, 2012, the increased dividend translates into a dividend yield of 97%, substantially higher than 64% paid earlier.

The increased dividend will be paid on December 4, 2012 to shareholders of record as of November 16, 2012. Visa’s strong balance sheet and ample free cash balance allowed it to increase the quarterly dividend amount. The company believes in sharing its returns with shareholders to enhance shareholder value. Consequently, it has been increasing its dividend annually over the past four years.

In October 2011, Visa hiked its annual dividend by 47% to 88 cents per share from the prior dividend payout of 60 cents per share. Before that, in October 2010, the company increased its annual dividend by about 20% from the 2009 level, when it had raised the dividend by 19% over 2008.

Earnings Precap

Visa is scheduled to release its fourth quarter and fiscal 2012 on October 31 after the closing bell.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Visa’s fiscal fourth-quarter 2012 (ended September 30, 2012) earnings is currently pegged at $1.50 per share, up about 18% year over year. Of the 26 firms covering the stock, one revised the estimate upward while no downward revisions were witnessed in the past 30 days.

For fiscal 2012 (ended September 30, 2012), Visa’s earnings are expected to be $6.16 per share, which surged about 23% over 2011 level.

Visa’s fiscal third-quarter 2012 (ended June 30, 2012) operating earnings of $1.56 per Class A common share outpaced the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.45. Additionally, the earnings substantially exceeded prior-year quarter’s earnings of $1.26 per share, primarily based on lower share count.

Visa, which competes with MasterCard Incorporated (MA - Free Report) , currently carries a Zacks #2 Rank, implying a Buy rating for the short term. We maintain a long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock.



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