During the dark days of the credit crunch, Shell's (LSE: RDSB) share price reached a low of around 1,280p and it then took just over three years and three months for it to double. Clearly, the wider stock market was in dire straits in October 2008 and the oil price was also exceptionally low. But with both of them moving higher in the years following Shell's share price low, the oil major was able to deliver an astonishing rise in its valuation.
While the FTSE 100 isn't particularly low at the present time, the oil price is. Yes it has risen significantly from its $28 per barrel low earlier this year, but it's still trading at less than $50 per barrel. This indicates that there's substantial upside in the price of black gold, with increasing demand from emerging markets as well as market forces having the potential to combine and drive the price of oil higher in the coming years.
Efficiency and expansion
Clearly, a higher oil price would be great news for Shell and it could help to boost its profitability. As ever, rising profitability is likely to lead to improved investor sentiment and a higher share price. However, the company is also using the current low ebb in the oil price to strengthen its long-term profit outlook. Notably, it has purchased BG Group and this not only improves the quality of its asset base, but also boosts Shell's diversity. Furthermore, Shell has adopted a sensible strategy of reducing exploration spend and cutting back on costs as it seeks to become increasingly efficient. This should boost profitability and could push its share price higher.
With Shell forecast to increase its bottom line by 75% in the 2017 financial year, its shares could gain a real boost from improving investor sentiment. Furthermore, they trade on a price-to-earnings-growth (PEG) ratio of just 0.2 and this indicates that Shell could post stunning gains and still offer excellent value for money. And with Shell having a price-to-book (P/B) ratio of only 1.3, its shares appear to offer the scope to double within the next three-and-a-half years - especially if profitability improves.
While Shell has the potential to double by 2020, it also comes with risks. The oil price could come under further pressure in the short run since it remains highly volatile and dependent on news flow rather than fundamentals over a shorter period of time. In addition, Shell may be forced to cut its dividend, which could harm investor sentiment, although it's likely to remain a relatively high-yield play.
However, such situations could present an even better opportunity to buy a slice of Shell for the long haul, with the company having sound finances, a sensible strategy and the asset base to navigate the current oil price woes and deliver a doubling of its share price over the medium-to-long term.
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Peter Stephens owns shares of Royal Dutch Shell. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Royal Dutch Shell B. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.