I am not a fan of this administration, but its recent efforts to force Iran and Venezuela out of the oil markets are having an effect: It’s bringing some dead oil stocks back to life.
What they have in common are steady production and balance sheets that let them put their new gains into something other than paying back old debt. If they can buy their own stock instead, it can float upward and that gives them a currency with which to do new deals.
This has been a play for speculators, not investors, because if you were buying and holding these stocks over the last year or two, you’re wondering what the excitement is about.
Take Extraction Oil as an example. This stock is up 30% since the start of the year. Much of that gain has been achieved in just the last week, before April 23, as the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the primary U.S. grade, has gone from $60 per barrel to $65.
Extraction has had been profitable since last spring, but its balance sheet still shows $1.4 billion in debt, against a market cap of $946 million, when the stock opened for trade April 23. Over the last year, it is down 60%. It’s only this month that it has started to pay off.
Devon is in much better financial shape. It remained profitable during the worst of the oil bust, which started in 2014, reporting 2018 net income of $1.14 billion. The balance sheet shows debts of just $5.8 billion on a market cap of $15.4 billion.
Yet if you have been in this name for a year, you have just broken even, and over two years, the return is a negative 10%. The dividend, currently at 9 cents per share, a yield of 1.14%, doesn’t make up that loss. What you needed to do was time your trade to the start of the year. If you bought early in January, you have a gain of over 50% in Devon.
This is a game for traders and speculators, not investors.
What the small fry hope for is a bailout, from a major oil stocks player like Chevron (NYSE:CVX).
Chevron recently announced it will buy Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC) for $33 billion. Or try Conoco Philips (NYSE:COP), which has sold assets to firm up its balance sheet. It could now buy back stock or a smaller domestic producer. Analysts are pounding the table for these stocks.
But what they’re pushing are sellers, not buyers. Conoco Philips has been a net seller of assets. Anadarko is trading above the Chevron bid because Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) may still launch a hostile bid for the company.
In any case, what analysts are praying for is consolidation. Fewer players, more concentrated in the Permian, could become “swing producers” that can hold prices steady, and increase production when the market is tight, limiting it when the market is glutted.
The Bottom Line on Oil Stocks
Iran is going to come back online. Venezuela is going to come back online. Huge new pools of oil, like the one Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) has found off Guyana, are going to come online.
Production will rise, and demand will fall, because there are now alternatives to oil in the market. Efficiency, technology, and renewable energy are still the market drivers. The Permian “control” of the market has a sell-by date, and you don’t want to be long when it comes.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this article.