For American consumers, prices at the pump are lower. Pump prices have not fallen as fast as oil because of refinery utilization as well as location. Oil refineries on the east coast don't always use the cheaper West Texas crude, but rather the now more expensive Brent North Sea oil.
Energy producers are feeling the impact. I examined Exxon Mobil (XOM), ConocoPhillips (COP), Chevron (CVA), English-based BP (BP) and Valero Energy (VLO), Marathon Oil (MRO), Chesapeake Energy (CHK), Sandridge Energy (SD), Kodiak Oil & Gas (KOG) and Cheniere Energy (LNG).
The major energy stocks really are a mixed bag. S&P Energy Select ETF XLE (XLE) represents energy producers and recently bounced off of lows. XLE appears ready to test the 200-day moving average again.
XLE offers exposure for investors wishing to invest in energy companies without having to pick individual stocks. The volatility is lower than most in the underlying basket and can reasonably be expected to remain relatively more stable. XLE pays a dividend with a yield about 2 percent.The charts for major oil producers appear much more stable compared to the underlying products like United States Oil ETF USO (USO) and US Natural Gas ETF UNG (UNG). Natural gas prices went into a free-fall after new methods of extracting natural gas commonly called "fracking" became widely used. Now natural gas prices are well under $3 per million BTUs. The low natural gas prices, normally influenced by oil prices have decoupled. In April UNG traded below $15 before bouncing back above $18 about a month later and currently trades near $19. I have traded UNG to the long side many times in the last three months. I will buy UNG (via selling covered calls) again on significant dips. USO is technically oversold slightly, but I am holding off on buying until a parabolic move down occurs. It's an advantage I have as a trader; I believe the odds of a short-term bounce are increasing, which in turn will set up another possible short trade in USO for a longer-term hold.
All companies have international pricing-related exposure, and Europe may continue to drag on earnings but at least provide greater margins. Transportation costs, current shipping lanes and lack of current demand for energy are a recipe for highly variable and localized energy costs. Exxon Mobil's price-to-earnings multiple is now under 10 for both the trailing 12- month period and forward estimates. Exxon, recently the number one market cap company in the world, has now fallen to "only" $375 billion in valuation. I believe Exxon is already at a reasonable price for long-term investors, and may soon become a good trading stock too. Even with lower oil prices, Exxon is well-positioned to take advantage of a convergence to natural gas and relatively higher demand from Europe/Asia when it happens. I am holding out for near $70 with Exxon to get long. ConocoPhillips is slightly weaker from the May 1 spin-off of Philips 66. Chesapeake Energy certainly has its share of news lately. Because natural gas prices are trading at yearly lows, a lot of volatility can be expected, especially in the near-term before demand ramps higher. Sandridge, Marathon, Southwestern and especially Kodiak and Forest Oil have also taken a hit from the falling energy prices, trading near the lows of the year and/or 52-week lows. While close, I am not yet ready to pull the trigger. I believe the recovery on natural gas prices will take three to five years. Conversion of greater numbers of vehicles will not likely happen without a critical mass of natural gas fueling stations. As the cost of energy falls, just about every product in the market will have deflationary pressure. Take a box of stove-top stuffing, for example. The actual food product cost is 30% of the cost of energy into putting the box of food on a grocer's shelf. Lower energy costs equal greater spending by consumers, in turn lifting corporate profits and lifting the economy. energy costs have a high impact on inflation in general and will create headwinds in all commodities including Gold. (Read my Don't Walk, Run Away From Gold, Silver article.) This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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