Eq: Energy (101)
In an unexpected twist, crude oil prices declined following the OPEC meeting which ended with an announcement that there would be more production cuts in Q1 of next year. Following the Thursday meeting, oil prices fell by more than $2 and this weakness continued into Monday’s session. Since late September, WTI crude oil has dropped from the low $90s to the low $70s.
The bearish reaction is likely due to the market already expecting that some sort of cuts would be announced. Further, these cuts are of a voluntary nature. Many are skeptical that there will be enough discipline among members especially given that there has been dissension at recent meetings.
In their statement, OPEC announced voluntary cuts totalling 2 million barrels per day. The committee also signaled concerns over weaker demand in 2024. In terms of specifics, Saudi Arabia will cut 1 million barrels per day and another 300,000 of cuts will come from Russia. However, the lack of details is adding to uncertainty over whether these cuts will actually take place especially given that smaller OPEC members have large reliance on oil revenue and tend to be unreliable, when it comes to production discipline.
Finsum: Crude oil prices declined following last week’s OPEC meeting. This is despite members agreeing on voluntary production cuts.
Oil prices were marginally higher headed into this week’s Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting, following a decline upon the news that the meeting had been delayed.
According to reports, this delay was due to divisions among OPEC members when it came to further production cuts and restrictions on output. It’s an indication of clashing interests and incentives. As a collective, OPEC’s best interest is to reduce output to ensure that oil prices stay as high as possible. As individual countries, each country is incentivized to produce as much oil as possible to maximize revenue.
Another factor weighing on oil prices is expectations that demand will be weaker than expected in 2024 due to a slowing global economy particularly in Europe and Asia. Deutsche Bank recently warned that there is a strong possibility that the US falls into a recession next year. China’s economy remains stagnant more than a year after Covid protocols have been relaxed.
Iranian oil also continues to flood the market despite sanctions on these countries. Iranian production is reportedly at a 5-year high, although there are some who believe that sanctions may be more aggressively enforced due to the conflict in Hamas.
Finsum: Crude oil prices have dropped $20 over the last few weeks. One factor has been a lack of unity among OPEC member nations around production cuts.
This month has seen two major takeovers in the energy sector as Exxon bought Pioneer Natural Resources for $59.5 billion, while Chevron announced that it would buy Hess for $53 billion. Exxon significantly boosted its North American energy production and reserves with the acquisition, and Chevron added a mix of domestic and international assets. Many are speculating that these moves will trigger more M&A activity in the space.
This follows a slight slowing of M&A among oil E&P companies in Q3 as there were 25 deals worth $14 billion. To compare, there was $24 billion of M&A activity in Q2 of this year and $16 billion in Q3 of last year.
Of course, these deals are dwarfed by the size of Exxon and Chevron deals. According to a report by Enervus, "As anticipated, the pace of consolidation slowed for private E&Ps as the cream of the crop in terms of scale and quality has largely, but not entirely, been bought out. The next logical step in consolidation is more tie-ups between public producers."
Enervus anticipates more dealmaking among smaller companies in the sector especially in the shale patch. Additionally, larger independents could target smaller and midsized mergers with some candidates including Devon Energy, Marathon Oil, Chesapeake Energy, and Southwestern Energy.
Finsum: There were two mega-deals in the energy sector this month. Here’s why this could trigger a wave of M&A in the sector.
Alternative energy is forecast to grow rapidly in the coming years due to government subsidies and continued innovations which continue to drive power-generation costs lower. However, the bottleneck for the growth of the industry is proper infrastructure to store and transmit this power.
It’s also necessary as some types of alternative energy production such as wind, solar, and hydropower are adversely affected by weather. Until this goal is sufficiently solved, the world will continue to remain dependent on fossil fuels.
Investors have several options when it comes to investing in the growth of the energy storage industry. One is to own stocks of companies in the supply chain whether it means producers of metals like Albemarle, EV and battery producers like Tesla or BYD, or a provider of energy storage software, solutions, and services like Fluence Energy.
Another option is to invest in ETFs like the Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (LIT), the First Trust Nasdaq Clean Edge Smart GRID Infrastructure ETF (GRID), or the First Trust Nasdaq Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund (QCLN). These are diversified, lower-cost ETFs that offer exposure to the energy storage theme and offer exposure to the largest companies in the space.
Finsum: Alternative energy is booming, but it also requires sufficient investments in energy storage to support its growth.
The IEA issued its outlook for the energy sector. Overall, global demand remains strong with daily demand at 101.9 million barrels, a 2.3 million barrel per day increase from 2022. In recent months, there has been some signs of North American gasoline demand declining but this has been offset by strong demand from Asia. For next year, it forecasts a smaller increase of 900,000 barrels per day.
Global oil production is expected at 101.6 million barrels per day. This is a 1,500,000 barrel per day increase from last year despite less production from OPEC+. So far, there is no impact on oil production from the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Yet, there is still a daily shortfall which exacerbates the impact of an escalation in geopolitical risk with the gap being made up by inventories.
The attacks did result in a $3 to $4 spike in oil prices, although prices quickly stabilized and remain off recent highs. Currently, there is a push and pull between upwards pressure on the supply side as Russia and Saudi Arabia pull back on production while higher interest rates threaten the demand outlook. So far, demand has proven to be resilient contrary to expectations at the beginning of the year.
Finsum: The IEA issued its report on the oil market. It sees a small shortfall between global supply and demand which is being filled by inventories.
During Q3, there was a net outflow of $1.4 billion from renewable energy funds. Overall, there has been a 23% drop to $65.4 billion in total assets in renewable energy funds from the end of Q2.
Renewable energy companies have underperformed due to high rates and rising costs which are compressing margins. Given that many of these companies have high multiples, they are more sensitive to rising long-term rates which makes future projected cash flows less valuable.
While there was a burst of enthusiasm around the sector following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), many stocks in the sector are down between 30 and 50% since then. For instance, the iShares Clean Energy ETF (ICLN) is down 39% since the IRA’s passage in August of last year.
Some of the issues they’ve faced include project delays, long timelines for permits in addition to the headwind of higher material costs and interest rates. As a result, many high-profile projects in Europe have been delayed or canceled due to these constraints. Another contributing factor for outflows out of the sector is that artificial intelligence has become the new ‘hot’ growth theme in 2023 with the theme attracting significant flows.
Finsum: Renewable energy funds experienced major outflows in Q3 due to a variety of factors.
Most analysts attribute the current strength in oil to production cuts and discipline exercised by OPEC countries in preparation for a global recession. However, demand has been resilient, contrary to expectations, even with a weak Chinese economy and rising recession risk in many parts of the world.
According to Haitham Al Ghais, the secretary general of OPEC+, demand is expected to grow by 2.4 million barrels per day over the next couple of years. While many are encouraging the group to increase production in order to provide relief to consumers and temper inflationary pressures, Al Ghais is more concerned about the decline in CAPEX in the oil & gas sector.
He believes this will lead to an unsustainably tight equilibrium that will be prone to supply shocks and potential shortages. He believes that many in the West are being naive about alternative energy given the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.
In essence, Al Ghais sees a bigger crisis looming given that he sees oil demand continuing to grow steadily while investments in future production have declined due to poor returns in the past and concerns that alternative energy will displace oil & gas. This is laying the seeds for a future energy crisis in his opinion.
Finsum: OPEC’s secretary general Haitham Al Ghais shared his thoughts on energy, and why he’s especially concerned about the lack of investment in new production.
JPMorgan upgraded the global energy complex to an ‘overweight’ rating as it sees the possibilities of an energy ‘supercycle’ due to low levels of CAPEX over the past few years and near-term supply shocks. The bank believes that Brent crude oil prices could reach $150 by 2026. It sees upside for major energy producers and operators like Shell, Baker Hughes, and Exxon Mobil.
Oil prices have risen in the second-half of the year with WTI crude oil exceeding $90. This places strain on consumers, adds to inflationary pressures, and complicates chances of a Fed pivot. Oil prices have maintained their gains despite increasing concerns that a recession may be materializing given soft labor and consumption data.
The biggest driver of prices has been stronger than expected demand coupled with OPEC production cuts. It sees a tight supply/demand dynamic lingering over the intermediate-term which means increased susceptibility to geopolitical shocks. Based on current trends, the bank anticipates a 1.1 million barrel per day deficit in 2025 which could widen to 7.1 million barrels per day in 2030.
Finsum: JPMorgan sees the possibility of an energy supercycle due to demand remaining resilient and supply concerns.
On a shorter timeframe, oil has been enjoying a nice rally as it’s up nearly 30% since late-June. It’s largely being driven by the same catalyst that is affecting the stock market and bond market - recession risk in 2023 and early 2024 is being priced out, at least in the United States.
While the worst-case scenario for the economy has been taken off the table in the last couple of months, it’s also clear that the best-case scenario of a re-acceleration of growth is also unlikely given the spate of weaker than expected economic data released this week. The other major factor supporting prices is production cuts from OPEC+ countries who are looking to push prices higher. And, there are rumors that Russia and Saudi Arabia are expected to announce further cuts in the coming weeks.
On the bearish side, the major development is the deluge of data showing that China’s economy is much weaker than expected. Some of the weak data points include a drop in exports, consumption, and a nascent crisis in its real estate market. China is the world’s second-largest consumer of crude oil so this has major implications for its supply/demand dynamic.
Overall, oil is in a similar place to stocks and bonds. Amid a mix of bullish and bearish factors, it’s tough to determine whether this is a resumption of its bull market or simply an oversold bounce.
Finsum: Crude oil prices are up nearly 30% since late June. However, it’s tough to be confident about its long-term direction given the mix of bullish and bearish factors.
One of the biggest long-term issues affecting the energy sector is the growth of electric vehicles. According to the IEA, 50% of new vehicles sold will be EVs by 2030 with EV sales completely displacing traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) by 2050.
In Q2 of 2023, there was a new record in terms of sales in the US with nearly 300,000 EVs bought which comprises about 7% of the total sold. A big contributing factor is the Inflation Relief Act which offered subsidies for up to $7,500 for select EVs with many states offering additional subsidies.
Of course, this has major implications for gasoline demand which is a major component of crude oil use. And, it’s one reason why many are betting that global oil demand is peaking and set to decline over the coming decades.
This narrative is even affecting the supply side as many producers are using excess cash flow to pay off debt, distribute dividends, and strengthen their balance sheet rather than invest in new production. However, if this narrative turns out to be preemptive or incorrect, then there is likely going to be major upside for the energy sector.
Finsum: EV sales hit new record highs in Q2 of 2023 in part due to subsidies from the Inflation Relief Act. Whether EV sales keep rising is a major storyline in the energy market.
Energy stocks have underperformed in 2023 following a year of massive outperformance. YTD, the sector is up 5%, while the S&P 500 is up 15%. However, the sector continues to attract interest from value investors due to its low valuations and high dividend payments. The Energy Select SPDR (XLE) has a P/E of 8.2 and a dividend yield of 3.7% vs a P/E of 25 and yield of 1.5%.
Recent 13-F filings show that prominent value investors continue to build a position in the sector. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway boosted its stake in Occidental Petroleum by 5% and now owns 25% of the company. Despite his appetite for the stock and approval from the SEC to buy up to 50% of the company, Buffett has dismissed speculation that he is looking to buy the whole company, remarking that “We’re not going to buy control. We wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
Carl Icahn also owns Occidental albeit a much smaller stake at 1.5%. He also owns positions in Southwestern Oil & Gas and CVR Energy. Like Buffett, his career has been defined by buying into industries that are unloved with compelling valuations that are being ignored by the broader market in favor of ‘hotter’ sectors.
Many see a looming catalyst for energy in that oil producers have reduced production in the second-half of the year which should provide a healthy tailwind for prices the rest of the year.
Finsum: The energy sector is one of the cheaper parts of the market. So, it’s not surprising to see that many value investors are making big bets on the sector.
The first-half of the year saw the energy sector underperform due to various headwinds such as the crisis in regional banks, concerns of a recession, high rates, tight monetary policy, stubborn inflation, etc. The second-half of the year has seen energy outperform as economic data continues to come stronger than expected and inflation has moderated, leading to more confidence that a soft landing outcome is likely.
For instance, crude oil started the year at around $80 per barrel but spent most of the first-half, trading between $60 and $70. In the second-half of the year, oil has traded between $70 and $80 for the most part.
In terms of the outlook for crude oil for the rest of the year, the major bullish catalysts are reduced output due to OPEC+ cuts while demand should remain resilient especially if a recession is avoided. However, there is a bearish catalyst on the horizon due to increasing concerns that China could already be in a recession.
Recent data coming out of the country has been quite poor. This has been underscored by the 8.5% decline in property investments and defaults from some high-profile developers. Retail sales data also missed badly at 2.5% growth vs expectations of 5.3%. Another concerning datapoint is the 14.5% decline in the country’s exports. These trends could undermine the nascent rally in crude oil given that it’s a major source of demand.
Finsum: Crude oil prices have enjoyed a nice rally in the second-half of the year, however a weakening Chinese economy could result in the rally fizzling out.
One of the biggest surprises of 2023 has been the incredible strength of equities with the S&P 500 up 18% YTD, and many stocks and sectors actually making new all-time highs despite numerous headwinds such as high inflation, a hawkish Fed, and middling economic growth.
Yet, this rally has seen the bulk of outperformance from the technology sector, while cyclical parts of the market such as energy have lagged. However, there are signs that this could be changing especially following the energy sector’s strong performance over the last month as evidenced by XLE’s 8% gain.
The larger impetus for cyclical stocks has been growing recognition that the US will likely avoid a recession in 2023. Energy stocks have also had other catalysts such as strong earnings reports from behemoths like Chevron and Exxon Mobil. Additional catalysts could be supply cuts from OPEC+ and the US refilling its strategic petroleum reserve (SPR).
The sector also remains attractive from a valuation perspective. Currently, XLE has a price-to-earnings ratio of 8 and a dividend yield of 3.7%. Compare this to the S&P 500’s price to earnings ratio of 25.8 and yield of 1.5%.
Finsum: The energy sector has enjoyed strong performance over the last month due to a spate of strong earnings reports and increasing signs that the US will avoid a recession.
In a piece for Marketwatch, Michael Brush covers an interesting dichotomy regarding the energy sector. Billionaires like Warren Buffett and company insiders are bullish as evidenced by their large buys since the beginning of the year. However, broader investor sentiment towards the sector remains bearish as evidenced by its low valuations and middling performance this year.
Brush believes that the odds favor insiders and Buffett being correct. He also notes that energy stocks are cheap relative to their price to earnings ratios on a 5-year average basis. He also sees OPEC+ cuts over the past few months as a bullish catalyst and notes some unusual factors for why they haven’t been effective in pushing prices higher already.
He believes that another bullish factor for energy is the relatively low amount of CAPEX. In 2022, investments in oil production were 40% below 2014. This is another positive tailwind for energy prices especially as demand should continue to remain resilient given that the US has so far avoided a recession.
He recommends seeking out energy stocks with strong patterns of insider buying, low valuations, and above-average yields and expects the sector to outperform in the second-half of the year.
Finsum: Energy stocks are exhibiting low valuations, insider buying, and aggressive buying by billionaires like Warren Buffett.