Buy Oil Stocks
Remember those record profits seen by Big Oil in 2008 as crude oil pushed $150 a barrel? Well, that’s the most obvious example in recent memory of how skyrocketing oil prices result in skyrocketing returns for oil stocks.
Of course, you can’t actually point to big profits at oil stocks in 2008 … if you’ll recall, financial Armageddon put a bit of a damper on things that year for every sector.
But after seeing earnings and revenue roll back with oil prices, there is the prospect of a brisk run-up in oil in the months ahead. Yes, demand is soft, but the International Energy Agency reports that worldwide demand will rise by 1.2% (to 89.3 million barrels a day) this year and 1.6% (to 90.7 million barrels a day) next year. So the direction still is up, even if not as steeply as we thought. Supply also is really being crimped by the Arab Spring and supply disruptions in the Middle East. In fact, even in this environment of reduced demand, the CEO of Hess (NYSE:HES) has warned of an oil shock and “energy crisis” if supplies are not ramped up soon.
Even if you don’t believe any of the supply/demand games, simply bank on inflation. Remember, energy inflation is one of the prime drivers of Consumer Price Index metrics — so much so that it’s excluded from the “core” numbers.
Getting into Big Oil like Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) or Chevron (NYSE:CVX) could be profitable — and considering the 3% dividends or so in the sector, you have incentive to stick around in these stocks for the long term as inflation heats up.
Traders can try to just buy oil outright via ETFs like the iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil Fund (NYSE:OIL), which is pegged to West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures contracts. But that is an aggressive game, and the expenses and other practical limitations mean that the OIL fund is not a 1-to-1 correlation with oil prices. But it’s close, and directionally accurate if you want to simply play oil.
Buy Agribusiness Stocks
In 2011, the USDA projects the price index for “all food” is will increase 3% to 4%. That breaks down with “Food-at-home (grocery store) prices are forecast to rise 3.5% to 4.5%, while food-away-from-home (restaurant) prices are forecast to increase 3% to 4%.” On top of that, 2012 projections predict another food-at-home price increase of 3% to 4%.
Not looking forward to those steep grocery bills? Well, your best bet is to get into the business of food and agriculture to profit. Just as higher crude oil prices boost profits for Exxon, higher grain prices boost profits for farmers and related businesses.
Obviously, there are no publicly traded veggie farms — and food processors and packaged food companies often get squeezed by inflation more than anything else. So go right to the source with seed giants Monsanto (NYSE:MON) and Syngenta (NYSE:SYT) or fertilizer giants including Potash (NYSE:POT) and Mosaic (NYSE:MOS). When crop prices are up, farmers have a big incentive to plant as much as possible and boost their yield — and their bottom line. That means more seed, herbicide and fertilizer sales.
It’s not an apples-to-apples play on the rising price of food, to be sure. But agribusiness stocks do tend to benefit from higher crop prices — and inflation will ensure those prices indeed move up.
Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he owned a a position in the IYE energy ETF but none of the individual stocks named here. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.