The U.S. last week launched a missile strike on a government airbase in Syria. The missile attack came in response to a chemical weapons attack earlier that week.
The immediate impact for investors is that the markets are now facing an elevated level of geopolitical risk.
Typically, spikes in geopolitical concerns cause oil prices to rise. Indeed, on Monday, crude oil prices increased to $56 a barrel in the U.S., due in large part to the missile strike.
Higher oil prices are a huge catalyst for the energy sector.
Specifically, oil and gas producers, as well as suppliers of drilling equipment and services, will benefit the most.
Here are three energy stocks -- all with solid dividend payouts -- that should see the biggest boost from rising oil prices.
Naturally, Exxon Mobil(XOM) - Get Report would be a big beneficiary for an uptick in oil prices. It is the largest publicly traded oil company in the world, with a market capitalization of $345 billion.
Exxon Mobil produced 4.1 million oil-equivalent barrels a day in the fourth quarter. It is a massive company, and will see its earnings grow considerably if oil prices rise from here.
Last year, in a difficult time for the industry, Exxon Mobil still earned a profit of $7.8 billion.
Exxon Mobil maintained profitability, thanks largely to the benefits of economies of scale.
With such a huge footprint, there was plenty of fat for Exxon Mobil to trim from its cost structure when oil and gas prices fell. For example, the company slashed capital expenditures by nearly $12 billion last year.
Generating positive earnings throughout the oil price cycle is a big reason why Exxon Mobil has become a legendary dividend stock.
Exxon Mobil arguably has the strongest dividend track record of all energy stocks. It has paid a dividend to shareholders for more than 100 years.
Moreover, it has increased its dividend for 34 years in a row.
This makes it a Dividend Aristocrat, a group of stocks in the S&P 500 that have raised their dividends for at least 25 consecutive years.
Going forward, Exxon Mobil's earnings growth will help the company continue raising its dividend. The company's growth will be fueled by five major projects currently under construction, projects that are set to be completed over the next two years.
Collectively, the five projects are projected to add 340,000 oil equivalent barrels per day to Exxon Mobil's production capacity. If oil prices rise, these projects will come on line at the perfect time.
Exxon Mobil's dividend currently stands at $3 a share, which works out to a solid dividend yield of 3.6%.
Not surprisingly, the exploration and production side of the business fared the worst. Lower commodity prices caused Chevron's upstream business to lose $2.5 billion for the year.
Chevron's most important projects up ahead are its two massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) plays in Australia -- Gorgon and Wheatstone.
The Gorgon facility is complete, and the two trains at Gorgon are running near capacity, with a third train expected to start up production in the second quarter.
Gorgon currently has output of more than 200,000 barrels a day. Wheatstone is scheduled to come on line in mid-2017.
These projects are a big reason why Chevron expects production growth of 4% to 9% in in 2017.
Moving forward, Chevron will focus on expanding its domestic production, particularly at the Permian Basin.
The Permian Basin is one of the premier oil-producing fields in the U.S., capable of pumping out more than 1 million barrels per day.
Chevron has vast acreage holdings in the Permian Basin, with potential for more than 9 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
In addition, the economics of the Permian Basin are highly attractive. The region has among the lowest per-barrel development costs in the U.S.
Last year, Chevron cut its Permian unit development costs by 20%, and lowered unit operating costs by 35%.
In a recent interview, Chevron CEO John Watson said the company would re-prioritize its Permian assets. Over time, he envisions Chevron's Permian production to rise eight-fold from present levels, to 700,000 barrels per day.
To get there, Chevron will increase spending in the Permian by 67% in 2017, to $2.5 billion.
This production growth will be a major tailwind for Chevron's earnings, especially if oil prices continue their upward trend.
Like Exxon Mobil, Chevron is a Dividend Aristocrat. It has increased its dividend for 29 years in a row. Chevron has a current dividend yield of 3.9%.
Helmerich & Payne
It operates in oilfield services. The company is a contract driller.
H&P was hit hard by the downturn in oil prices from 2014-2016. When oil prices sink, so do orders for rigs and drilling equipment.
This is why H&P's revenue fell by nearly half in fiscal 2016, and the company lost $57 million for the year.
The good news is that conditions are starting to improve.
H&P lost $35 million in the 2017 fiscal first quarter, but that was narrower than the $73 million loss in the previous quarter.
If oil prices continue to climb, H&P could see a return to profitability and growth.
H&P's expenses were higher than usual last quarter, as the company worked to re-deploy rigs that it had "cold-stacked,, or left idle, during the downturn.
This activity results in a near-term cost, but will position H&P to take advantage of higher prices in the back half of 2017 and beyond. H&P management has noted an increase in market share over the past few months.
H&P has seen strong momentum in each of its core segments, which leads to a better outlook for the current quarter.
In the U.S. land segment, H&P expects days of rig activity to increase by 30%-35% this quarter. Profit margin per land rig is expected to be $7,500 per day this quarter.
A return to positive earnings per share would help boost H&P's dividend growth prospects.
H&P has not paid a dividend as long as Exxon Mobil, but it has increased its dividend for many years in a row.
It is a Dividend Achiever, a list of 265 stocks that have raised their dividends for at least 10 consecutive years.
You can see the full Dividend Achievers List here.
H&P has a current dividend yield of 4.1%, which is higher than the yields of Exxon Mobil and Chevron. H&P's dividend yield is twice the average dividend yield in the S&P 500.
I am long XOM and HP.