Humans are creatures of habit. And since financial markets are, basically, a gigantic stew of the basest and most extreme of human nature, they too are creatures of habit.
Things look bad? Get in there and sell, sell, sell! Things look good? Get in there and buy, buy, buy!
Basic patterns often result in predictable results, and after a year or so into the energy bear market I’ve identified an interesting inflection point in the price of oil. It’s in the relationship between the prices of the two main oil benchmarks: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude.
I’ve noticed that whenever the prices of the two benchmarks reach parity, there’s typically a decent rally in oil prices. These charts show that.
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When both Brent and WTI reached $44 a barrel, oil bounced better than 10%. It looks like we’re approaching the same inflection point.
Here’s how to profit.
The best way I’ve found to play oil directly is through using the iPath S&P GSCI Crude Total Return Index Exchange Traded Note (OIL). OIL trades closest with WTI. Currently, OIL trades at around $5.39. This security pays no dividend or distribution so the only reason to play OIL is for capital appreciation. Investors should set both upside and downside targets on the price. 10% on either side makes sense.
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For more income oriented investors, the Alerian MLP ETF (AMLP) offers a great opportunity for yield and growth. Holding a basket of 27 different master limited partnership (MLP) units, AMLP’s portfolio represents a broad spectrum of U.S. energy infrastructure companies, including pipeline/transportation, storage and processing.
At around $12.23, shares of AMLP are still a ways off from their 52 week high of $14.25 and are still trading at a 36% discount to their 2014 high of around $19. I don’t have much confidence that they will reach that level again, but AMLP should rise in sympathy with oil and gas prices. AMLP’s 8.8% distribution will also boost the ETF’s total return.
ADR’s of the gigantic French oiler Total SA (ADR) (TOT) are attractive as well. With nearly 11.6 billion barrels of proven reserves, Total shares trade at an 12% discount to their 52 week high with a forward P/E of 12.07 and a 5.92% dividend yield.
Total has taken its lumps along the whole energy sector. However the company’s balance sheet remains solid with nearly $25 billion in cash on the books which comes out to $10.33 cash per share. Operating cash flow is also strong at $15.6 billion. At $46.21 shares trade at just 1.13 times their tangible book value.
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Risks To Consider: The biggest risk investors face is that oil prices don’t go up. Markets await word from the Federal Reserve not necessarily on whether or not they will physically raise interest rates, but for an indication on the health of the U.S. economy. Any weakness will ripple through multiple sectors. Weakness will also stoke fears of lack of energy demand due to weaker consumers or industrial output. The yield oriented ideas provide a little more insulation than the pure play OIL.
I still firmly believe oil prices will stay low for quite some time as the excesses produced by the boom are worked off. This is by no means a long term bullish call.
Action To Take: Currently, WTI is approaching $44 per barrel while Brent hovers around $46. As they grow closer in price, I expect both to take a decent bounce in the near term. On average, when this happens the price generally climbs an average of around 13%. Shares of OIL would benefit directly from the move. TOT and AMLP look at a potential total return of 21% when factoring in dividend income.
Editor’s Note: Investing in energy storage more than DOUBLED in the first quarter 2016. Indicators point to an upward track for this breakout industry. Here are three ways to play it for 10 times the gains by 2020. Full story.
Disclosure: Adam Fischbaum owns shares of OIL and AMLP in family and managed client accounts.
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