What a year for black gold. The price of oil, which investors had left for dead, has roared back to the life over the past year. In fact, oil prices are up more than 50% over the past 12 months using either Brent oil or NYMEX crude as benchmarks.
Barring an immediate reversal in oil prices, this huge spike is going to have wide-spread economic ramifications. Here are three winners and three losers from surging oil prices.
Oil Price Losers
Airlines: Not surprisingly, airlines are having a rough go of it so far in 2018. Some of this is due to company-specific news, such as the fatal accident at Southwest Airlines Co (NYSE:LUV) and the 60 Minutes investigation into Allegiant Travel Company (NASDAQ:ALGT).
Regardless, the bigger issue weighing on this sector is oil prices. Aviation is a notoriously cutthroat game, as even a modest increase in the price of fuel tends to wipe out the companies’ thin profit margins. Alas, while the price of jet fuel is surging, airfares are not. In fact, airfares have declined significantly over the past few years. And a recent study suggests airfares will rise just 1% in 2018, hardly compensating for a 50% surge in the price of oil.
So far, the sector fund, the U.S. Global Jets ETF (NYSEARCA:JETS) is down just 10% from its January highs. Expect more pain for JETS and the individual airlines going forward.
Big Oil Importers: One of the developing themes of 2018 is weakness in the emerging markets. Sure, a few headline-grabbing events, such as Argentina’s collapsing peso and Turkey’s crippled Central Bank, have gathered press.
But arguably the big story is how oil will impact emerging markets. India and China are two of the major BRIC countries, respectively. They’re also the world’s two largest countries by population. And neither of them has any meaningful level of oil production. As a result, they have to import increasing quantities of oil as their economies flourish. With much higher oil prices, we should expect to see a material slowdown for countries such as China, India and the other Southeast Asian economies. That, in turn, will have wide-ranging effects on global trade.
Commuting Consumers: With peak summer driving season soon upon us, the gas price spike is coming at a bad time for the average American’s wallet. If you’re planning a summer road trip, save up a little extra for your fuel stops.
The national average gas price has spiked up to $2.93 per gallon this week. That’s up 5 cents just from last week and almost 60 cents over the past year. We’re still well off the record $4.11 per gallon reached years ago, but with prices approaching the $3 threshold, expect consumers to pull back on other spending if this squeeze keeps up.
Oil Price Winners
Producing Countries: If oil prices hold at $70 per barrel or above, some long struggling equity markets should finally recover. Consider Canada, for example. Between 1998 and 2008, the Canadian market, as tracked by the iShares MSCI Canada ETF (NYSEARCA:EWC) vastly topped its U.S. counterpart. EWC rose almost 200% over that stretch.
Alas, once oil tanked, so did Canada. Over the past 10 years, EWC has delivered an outright negative total return, while U.S. index funds have doubled. With energy prices surging, however, Canada may be able to close some of this gap. Another oil-heavy market to consider would be Russia — although political problems weigh there.
More tactically, you might look at Global X MSCI Colombia ETF (NYSEARCA:GXG). Colombia produces almost 1 million barrels of oil a day, accounting for roughly half its exports. Its GXG ETF is still down 50% from pre-oil crash levels. It’s up 8% over the past six months — but that’s still nothing considering the leverage the Colombian economy has to higher oil prices.
Alternative Energy: Since the 1970s, solar and other alternative energy sources have lived under the shadow of oil. When oil prices surge, alternatives get huge investment capital flows, subsidies, and the like. When oil prices go back down, however, interest in alternatives fades as well.
It’s a vicious cycle. Regardless, this time around, alternatives got a boost at an important moment. Wind and solar stocks dropped initially once Trump took office. It was presumed that his pro-oil and pro-coal rhetoric would result in alternative players being disadvantaged.
So far, the federal government’s hammer hasn’t fallen on the sector though. Combine that with the big recovery in oil, and money is flowing into alternatives again. First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) is a prominent example, with the stock up from $35 last summer to $71 today. However, this could still be the early innings for the trade — a lot of these alternative energy companies are way down from their all-time highs.
U.S. Heartland Economy: Between 2008 and 2012, U.S. employment in the oil and gas industry increased by more than 40%. That occurred even as the rest of the economy overall net lost jobs. From 2014, onward, however, these flows started to go in reverse as oil prices tanked, and many Exploration and Production companies went bankrupt.
Look for the fracking job machine to get back to forward motion now, however. That should good for a variety of Middle America assets. Think everything from Texas-centered Real Estate Investment Trusts to heartland banks to Midwestern-heavy retailers.
Oil Prices: See the Pros and Cons
It’s easy to view rising oil prices as a uniformly good or bad thing. Particularly if you have a long commute and gas-guzzling vehicle, it seems quite terrible. If you’re living in an oil boom region such as Oklahoma, things look great. If you’re invested heavily overseas, a lot comes down to whether your holdings are tied to higher oil production output, or whether they get hit by rising input prices.
All in all, it’s important to remember that something as central to the economy as oil impacts a great deal of our investments. Some sectors take big losses, such as airlines, while others profit dramatically. More than anything, a 50% annual jump in oil prices should remind us of the importance of diversification. With a proper mix of stock holdings, you’ll have some winners from oil prices, even as other companies struggle.
At the time of this writing, the author held no positions in the aforementioned securities. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.