Heading into the series of debates between the Trump administration and the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket, conservatives pushed a narrative that Biden was basically senile. It was a reversal of the George W. Bush versus Al Gore strategy, when Republicans attempted to set the bar high for the latter. So, when Biden reasonably held his own, that didn’t look good for team Trump. Still, the President hit him on a tough issue that could impact oil stocks.
During the second debate, Biden denied Trump’s accusations that the former Vice President was against fracking. However, even the left-leaning “fake news” media fact checked Biden, who had made prior public claims that were negative on fossil fuels. Of course, the Trump campaign team had a field day, routinely calling out this misstep. Theoretically, a Biden administration would pose a headwind against oil stocks. But because of that perception, voters could swing for Trump in key battleground states.
As everyone knows, oil stocks have been one of the worst-hit segments due to the severe disruption of the novel coronavirus pandemic. With everyone sheltering at home during the initial phase of the crisis, the sudden demand erosion once brought oil prices into negative territory, a truly unprecedented phenomenon. Therefore, big oil is probably hoping (and desperately so) for a Trump victory.
And it very well could happen because of a concept called social desirability bias. Basically, President Trump is a polarizing figure. For instance, even though Trump has routinely denied that he’s racist, many people perceive him as such. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by conservative voters. Therefore, it’s in their best interest to keep quiet when discussing politics, especially pollsters. Plus, social desirability bias isn’t just a concept in politics, which lends the phenomenon more credibility.
Of course, I don’t want to overstate the contrarian case for the oil industry. Even if President Trump caused lightning to strike twice, his reelection wouldn’t address the biggest headwind in the room: lack of demand. With a record-breaking surge in new coronavirus infections, it’s possible that fossil fuels will again take a beating. Still, these oil stocks are praying for a Trump win.
- Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM)
- Chevron (NYSE:CVX)
- ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP)
- Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY)
- EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG)
- Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN)
- Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO)
In addition, you can make the argument that a second Trump term will be more conducive to helping big business. Yes, small businesses are the ones that are hurting, but their larger counterparts nominally offer more high-paying jobs. Further, a Trump victory will probably be incredibly lean and thus, Republicans will want to keep their promises if they wish to succeed beyond this election cycle. So, oil stocks wouldn’t be completely crazy if “The Donald” pulls out another miracle.
Exxon Mobil (XOM)
Personally and fundamentally, I do not like oil stocks at this time. While the election will likely bring surprises that will send equities in various directions, there’s something that the broader fossil fuel industry can’t fix: the severe decline in demand. Frankly, Joe Biden seems to take the coronavirus more seriously and it’s the pandemic that really needs to be addressed for big oil to truly have a credible recovery.
Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m skeptical regarding Exxon Mobil. In late summer, XOM stock generated headlines for all the wrong reasons. After 92 years of being featured on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the venerable name got the boot. Of course, this only adds to the negativity surrounding the once proud and seemingly unassailable oil and gas giant.
However, I would be remiss not to point out that, according to Barron’s, “Recent history, however, suggests that stocks exiting the index do better one year after their removal than those that were added.” Intriguingly, the negativity in XOM stock has declined in magnitude while treading near a long-term support line.
Further, President Trump very well has a shot at winning reelection. If he does, maybe, just maybe this is one of the oil stocks that could mount a recovery going into 2021.
For now, Chevron is holding the fort for oil stocks as it remains on the Dow 30 list. Of course, that’s no victory in itself, nor is it a signal to be complacent. Yes, you can make the argument that getting kicked out of the Dow would be beneficial, sort of like how NFL teams may cynically wish to lose their games to get a higher draft pick – I’m looking at you, New York Jets!
However, for CVX stock to also get the boot would be devastating for the oil industry. Therefore, I’m confident that Chevron’s management team is doing everything it can to keep the boat afloat. To its credit, the company has mitigated the damage better than others. Unfortunately, at a year-to-date loss of nearly 43%, Chevron will also need help.
And this is where the idea of gambling on oil stocks based on who will win the White House isn’t a totally insane concept. According to Jacobinmag.com, “In one instance, Chevron was able to borrow money [from the Federal Reserve] at half the rate as Wisconsin — meaning the oil giant was effectively getting a government subsidy, while state taxpayers were being offered a predatory rate.”
With the President appointing the Fed chair, the central bank may be influenced by politics. But that’s just one example. If Trump wins, CVX stock at least has a chance for a favorable environment.
Over the trailing five-day period ending Oct. 30, ConocoPhillips suffered far worse than many other big oil stocks. During this week of red ink, COP stock dropped nearly 9% of market value. In contrast, CVX declined 2.5% while XOM shed 2%. Likely, the nature of the underlying exploration and production business puts it at odds with current political perceptions.
To be fair, ConocoPhillips discusses its goals for meeting net-zero operational emissions by 2050, which aligns well with the so-called Biden Plan. But will that be enough to attract positive sentiment for COP stock? Likely, the answer is no. Frequently and consistently, we have been bombarded with messages about carbon footprints and climate change. Unfortunately, the simple optics is that ConocoPhillips runs counter to environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, a popular concept among millennials and Gen Z.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that ConocoPhillips is an ESG violator. Rather, I’m merely pointing out that its underlying industry is no longer in style. That could explain in part the significant volatility in COP relative to other oil stocks.
That’s also why ConocoPhillips is desperately seeking a Trump victory. If he wins, I can imagine that COP will enjoy an above-average bounce back.
Occidental Petroleum (OXY)
Although you’re not going to find a comfortable investment among oil stocks right now, Occidental Petroleum stands out due to its extreme desperation. By the time trading closed on the last business day of October, OXY stock was staring at a massive 78.6% YTD loss. Therefore, if any fossil-fuel-related company needs a Trump victory, it’s Occidental.
Sadly, the energy firm exacerbated its problems when management secured what would turn out to be a disastrous acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum. As the Houston Chronicle noted:
Oxy was relentless in its pursuit of Anadarko, outbidding a $33 billion Chevron offer to snatch up the company’s coveted Permian assets. The takeover came at a huge expense. Oxy took on $40 billion of additional debt including $10 billion in preferred financing from Warren Buffett to pay cash and stock for Anadarko.
“Oxy’s management thought it was a deal they couldn’t pass up,” said Andrew Dittmar, senior mergers and acquisitions analyst at energy research firm Enverus. “They felt they had to go above and beyond to outbid Chevron.”
Frankly, I don’t think there’s much of a shot with OXY stock due to its extreme risk profile. But if a recovery were to happen, Occidental Petroleum would need Trump to bring back the 2016 magic. Even then, OXY is something reserved only for extreme speculators.
EOG Resources (EOG)
With most of EOG Resources’ operations occurring in the U.S., EOG stock would benefit substantially from a Trump victory. As you might guess, the former real estate mogul appealed to the common working folk, who felt increasingly disenfranchised by the Democrats and their white-collar elitism. Further, EOG Resources provides many jobs for the middle of America. The fear is that Biden’s stance on fracking and fossil fuels in general would disrupt the way of life for many hard-working Americans.
Therefore, I don’t think the game is over for Trump and the Republicans. Yes, the Democrats have a commanding lead in early voting statistics. Basically, this means that Trump supporters need to show up bigly on election day. Chances are, they will do exactly that.
Now, I don’t know if the volume will be enough to get the incumbent the 270 electoral votes that he needs. But this election cycle may be one where anecdotal evidence is far more powerful than you might imagine. For example, we’ve seen massive Trump rallies in liberal strongholds like Los Angeles. What’s more surprising is that the demographics were diverse – whites, communities of color, LBGTQ, you name it, it was represented.
Frankly, you don’t see this kind of excitement for whom Trump labels as “Sleepy Joe.” Thus, we could see EOG stock move higher on a Trump win, although again, this is only a play for the speculator.
Devon Energy (DVN)
Without a return of consumer demand, it’s hard to see how oil stocks can enjoy a credible recovery. However, not every hydrocarbon play is facing an existential crisis. For instance, Devon Energy posted results for its third-quarter earnings report that, while negative, in context, they provided much-needed optimism for DVN stock.
Primarily, the adjust per-share loss of 4 cents came in better than expectations, which called for a loss of 8 cents. As well, Devon’s revenue of $1.097 billion met covering analysts’ consensus target. Also, Zacks Equity Research reported that “Total net production for third-quarter 2020 touched 326,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (Boe/d), which exceeded the guided range of 301,000-318,000 Boe/d and was marginally up sequentially.”
Of course, the encouraging Q3 results doesn’t take away from the speculative cloud hanging over DVN stock. Honestly, this is an idea best left to the gamblers. But if you are going to gamble, especially based on the upcoming election and possible policy implications, you may want to check out Devon Energy.
After all, it’s already posting contextually strong production figures. An unexpected Trump win should see at least some sentiment return to oil stocks, particularly for companies like Devon that are proving their worth in troubled times.
Marathon Oil (MRO)
Despite everything that I just said about oil stocks, you don’t want to overstate the impact of any one election. Yes, Joe Biden is theoretically bad for fossil fuels. But he knows full well that you can’t just launch an assault against the industry. Otherwise, Democrats will not stay in power for too long. Nothing motivates voters like taking their livelihood away.
However, a Trump administration can certainly make life a little more comfortable for exploration specialists like Marathon Oil. For example, the Washington Post reported on a not-significantly covered topic: Trump removed protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which is one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests.
Obviously, this has huge implications for the environment as well as conservation of our natural resources. That should be a bipartisan issue. Yet the administration’s willingness to sacrifice our natural treasures for business deals tells you that Trump would probably be better for MRO stock than a Biden administration.
Still, the incumbent must win and that’s not going to be easy. Sure, the enthusiasm is strong for the President. However, Democrats have been waiting for this opportunity for four years so they will put up a fight. Therefore, if you do want to bet on MRO stock, you may want to wait until after the results are official.
On the date of publication, Josh Enomoto did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.
A former senior business analyst for Sony Electronics, Josh Enomoto has helped broker major contracts with Fortune Global 500 companies. Over the past several years, he has delivered unique, critical insights for the investment markets, as well as various other industries including legal, construction management, and healthcare.