Amid the uproar over the wildly unstable markets, the usual suspects like technology or retail garnered the most attention. However, the deterioration in oil stocks presents one of the more troubling economic indicators. While drivers appreciate the discount at the pump, a deflated energy sector typically means a slowdown in commerce.
That said, the benchmark indices have witnessed a sharp rise in sentiment. For instance, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained over 3% this month. Likewise, oil and energy stocks have benefited the most from the resurgence. West Texas Intermediate is up over 14% in January, while the international benchmark Brent Crude Oil jumped 13%.
Still, I’d take a cautious approach to oil & gas stocks at this juncture. Countries awash in “black gold,” such as Saudi Arabia, are attempting to diversify their economies away from commodity dependency. They know firsthand the threat that suddenly declining prices pose. Further, efforts to artificially raise demand with production cuts have failed.
But on the flipside, energy stocks offer longer-term opportunities, if you know where to look. A major oversight is the focus on quantity and not quality. For example, shale-derived oil is too light to meet industrial demand for diesel. Therefore, demand for midstream and downstream oil stocks can jump when the supply of appropriate commodities dwindles.
Under the current environment, upstream oil & gas stocks present challenges. However, this segment shouldn’t be ignored. Proven companies that profit from their exploration dollars could move higher, especially if the newfound bullishness in oil sustains itself.
Undoubtedly, this is a tricky segment. But if you have the nerve, here are five oil stocks to consider:
Drilling for oil is a centuries-old business. As such, it’s easy to think that the industry remains an unsophisticated, crude affair, no pun intended. However, energy stocks are rapidly becoming dependent on innovative technologies, with BP (NYSE:BP) lending a recent example.
A few days ago, BP announced that it discovered one billion barrels of crude in the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, the company hit pay dirt at its Thunder Horse field, which is located off the tip of Louisiana.
But what made this announcement distinct was how BP made its discovery: Using advanced seismic technology and data processing, BP accelerated its analytics. Management stated that using prior-generation tech, the Thunder Horse finding would have taken years. Now, it takes just weeks.
Of course, upstreaming is risky in a volatile market due to the expenses involved in exploration efforts. But BP’s seismic tech sounds like a gamechanger that separates it from lesser oil stocks.
Kinder Morgan (KMI)
Part of the complexity involved in assessing energy stocks is the underlying product diversity. For instance, different oil viscosities lend to variances in performance and functionality. At its most elemental level, oil and gas products serve specific needs. Understanding these nuances can help navigate you toward the best investment.
With that in mind, if I had to make a pick among oil & gas stocks, I’m putting Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) on my short list. In recent years, natural gas production has skyrocketed in the U.S. This has created a viable market that didn’t previously exist in such scale.
As a result, Kinder Morgan’s midstream operations should continue to enjoy long-term demand. While KMI has exposure up and down the supply chain, its network of gas pipelines primarily rings the cash registers. Loosely speaking, the company operates a subscription business model: clients pay KMI based on the amount of gas sent through the pipelines.
No matter what happens to natural gas prices, transportation of energy-related commodities will remain a vital business venture.
Magellan Midstream Partners (MMP)
Over the last few volatile years, most oil stocks simply operated on survival mode. After absorbing devastating losses in 2014 and 2015, most sector players’ financials look understandably awful.
On the other hand, we have exceptions like Magellan Midstream Partners (NYSE:MMP). Since 2015, MMP has provided consecutive annual revenue growth, and momentum remains strong. In its most recent quarter, MMP delivered sales of $638 million, up over 11% year-over-year. Moreover, the company generates consistently positive free cash flow and features a fairly stable balance sheet.
Despite the general wildness in oil stocks, MMP should continue to deliver the goods. Management is eyeing overall growth, as evidenced by the constant expansion of its refined-petroleum products pipeline in Texas. More importantly, the organization is broadening its scope while emphasizing fiscal discipline.
Valero Energy (VLO)
Even compared to other troubled energy stocks, Valero Energy’s (NYSE:VLO) precipitous downturn surprised many observers. After putting up outstanding numbers throughout most of 2018, the final quarter proved insurmountable. Between the beginning of October and the end of December, VLO had sunk 34%.
But for current speculators, the extreme bearishness in Valero shares have taken down significant risk. For starters, we have to go back to November 2017 to see prices this low. More importantly, management has sparked a fiscal revival. Thanks to key acquisitions, Valero’s revenue and profitability metrics have improved dramatically since 2016.
I see more of the same in 2019, especially with its merger with Valero Energy Partners. Overall, the organization has solid financial standing, which has proven valuable in terms of shareholder payouts.
Occidental Petroleum (OXY)
Like other energy stocks, Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) incurred a disjointed year in 2018. In the first half, OXY appeared very promising, gaining over 15%. Unfortunately, sector turbulence combined with a broader market meltdown cratered the company.
After the dust settled, OXY had shed more than 13% last year. Still, I wouldn’t rule out a comeback. Since hitting a sales bottom in 2016, Occidental has been on a tear. Prior acquisitions have proved vital, with OXY returning to annual profitability in 2017, and is on course for a repeat performance in 2018.
Moreover, the leadership team have anticipated multiple oil-pricing scenarios. Should a barrel of crude drop to $40, OXY asserts that it can pay its dividends, and not overspend its cash flow. The sector is volatile, but I doubt that it will get that bad. Therefore, OXY presents an intriguing contrarian case.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.