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Lower prices for crude oil and natural gas will lead to a more than 30% decline in earnings for the energy sector in Q4. In contrast, the S&P 500 is expected to see a 1.4% drop in earnings. However, these numbers are somewhat skewed by the 7 largest, mega cap tech stocks which have seen a 53.7% increase in earnings. Subtracting these stocks from the S&P 500 reveals earnings decline of 10.5% for the index.
Overall, energy will see the biggest decline in earnings among all sectors. The weakness was recently highlighted by top-line misses for Exxon Mobil and Chevron. The biggest losses are expected in Oil & Gas Refining and Marketing with a 63% contraction in earnings, followed by Integrated Oil & Gas at -34%, and Oil & Gas Exploration & Production with a 20% drop. On the other side, Oil & Gas Equipment & Services and Oil & gas Storage & Transportation, both saw earnings growth.
Many producers are dealing with a bearish outlook for oil and gas prices due to weaker demand from Europe and China despite elevated geopolitical risks. At the same time, these producers are dealing with higher costs due to inflation, creating incentives to increase revenue by adding production.
Finsum: As Q4 earnings season enters its later stages, it’s clear that the energy sector will see the biggest decline in earnings. Here are some of the major factors behind the drop.
The last couple of years have been a wild ride for energy markets including developments like oil prices briefly going negative during the pandemic, Saudi Arabia releasing supply to discipline OPEC members, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, etc. While some volatility and uncertainty is assured given geopolitics, investors in the sector will be rewarded for having a long-term mindset and focus on fundamentals.
This includes being aware of the trends shaping the industry. In terms of oil, it’s clear that supply and demand is trumping geopolitical risk. This is evident as oil prices remain under $80 per barrel despite a large increase in MidEast tensions and the war between Russia and Ukraine continuing. More relevant to price is that production remains plentiful, especially from the US, while demand has been less strong than expected due to weakness from China and Europe.
Another trend is that M&A should continue in the sector following a slew of deals at the end of last year. Large producers are eager to lock down high-quality properties. Valuations also remain attractive, while companies in the sector have large amounts of cash on the balance sheet following years of capital discipline.
Finally, investments in renewables will continue despite recent struggles. The IEA is forecasting that 460 gigawatts of renewable energy production will be added. In the US, the EIA sees wind and solar production surpassing coal for the first time.
Finsum: Oil prices have remained under $80 per barrel despite a slew of geopolitical risks due to robust supply and weaker than expected demand.
2024 has started off with a bearish tone for the energy sector amid concerns of a supply glut and weakening demand. On Monday, crude oil prices dropped 4% as Saudi Arabia reduced prices for Asian customers by $2 per barrel.
This is leading to speculation that Saudi Arabia could be looking to regain market share by punishing US producers and undercut cheaper Iranian and Russian oil. It could lead to a similar situation as 2020 when oil prices collapsed as Saudi Arabia flooded the market to punish other producers. Currently, the US is producing 13.2 million barrels per day of oil and has been restocking inventories and increasing exports. Others see it more as the consequence of a weak demand environment and a reflection of a decelerating economy.
Energy prices had been higher to start the year amid an increase in geopolitical tensions. These include Houthi rebels attacking commercial vessels in the Red Sea and the escalations in the war between Israel and Hamas which could turn it into a larger, regional war. However, these concerns are being dwarfed by the supply and demand picture as evidenced by West Texas crude oil at $70 per barrel.
Finsum: Oil prices dropped as Saudi Arabia announced that it would be reducing prices for Asian customers. Some believe that the country could be acting to protect market share.
This year has seen some big swings in crude oil prices given a variety of developments. These include rising US oil production, OPEC production cuts, the ongoing war in Ukraine, rising tensions in the MIddle East following Hamas’ attack, and a slowing global economy. As a result, crude oil prices ended the year down 10%.
Entering 2024, these will continue to be major themes that need to be monitored. At its last meeting, OPEC reduced its production by 2.2 million barrels per day and said that more cuts may be necessary to support the price. But, there is increasing skepticism whether countries will actually abide given that many are reliant on oil revenue.
Another challenge for OPEC is that US oil production continues to rise. Next year, it’s forecast to be 13.3 million barrels per day, an increase from this year’s average of 13 million barrels per day. Companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron recently made major acquisitions of domestic producers and are also increasing capital expenditures. Unlike smaller producers, these majors are able to take advantage of economies of scale to push their costs lower and remain profitable with lower prices.
OPEC now only has control of 51% of the crude oil market which is the lowest in decades. This raises the possibility that Saudi Arabia could choose to increase the supply to temporarily crash the price of oil in order to punish these producers and take back market share, although most analysts believe this is unlikely.
On the other side, demand is projected to grow at the smallest rate in a year - 1.3 million barrels per day. In 2023, oil demand increased by 1.8 million barrels per day. In part, this is due to a slowing global economy especially in China.
Finsum: Oil has been quite weak to end the year despite several bullish catalysts. In hindsight, the most important development has been rising US oil production which is expected to hit a new record next year.
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.