NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- President Obama keeps racking up energy friends than have been long-time villains in the rhetoric of his party. In February, it was an
embrace that Obama gave to nuclear energy. On Wednesday, Obama brought oil drillers into his big-energy-love tent, with a plan to allow extensive offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy policy. Does that make oil drilling stocks an immediate smart play for investors? The biggest stock market winners on Wednesday as a result of the news from Washington were the oil drillers, and not the big multi-nationals like Exxon-Mobil ( XOM) or Chevron ( CVX), with diversified global business less-levered to a specific offshore energy play. It was no surprise that offshore oil driller stocks would rise on the news that President Obama was throwing out a majority of the offshore drilling stops that have typified for decades the political positions of Democrats and the environmental lobby in opposition to Big Oil and the Republicans. Yet there remains a gap as deep and wide as an underwater canyon between the political news of the moment and reasons to invest in oil drilling stocks. The oil driller stocks were up by anywhere from 2% to 4%. Among the biggest gainers was the most highly levered and volatile stock in the sector, under-$5 stock Hercules Offshore ( HERO). Hercules was up 3.5% on Wednesday afternoon, or a gain of 15 cents to $4.36. Trading in Hercules shares had eclipsed its average daily volume of 2.3 million by the mid-afternoon. Still, at under $5 a share, Hercules can move up or down 5% on any given day, energy analysts say. Also, as the most leveraged oil drilling stock, analysts say it is by no stretch of the imagination the bellwether stock in the oil drilling universe or the smartest play. "Hercules is more of an option than an equity, with enormous amounts of debt making it a high beta play. The big battle for Hercules is to not run out of cash in the next few years," said Matthew Conlon, analyst at MKM Partners. Diamond Offshore Drilling ( DO) was leading the oil drilling rally with a gain just short of 4%. Rowan Companies ( RDC), was right behind Diamond Offshore, with a gain of 3.6%. Transocean ( RIG) was up 3.5%. Transocean, the largest of the deep-water drillers, had the most elevated trading level among the drilling stocks on Wednesday, with 8.5 million shares traded, versus an average daily volume of 6 million shares. Most of the other drilling stocks were trading at typical volumes.
Seahawk Drilling ( HWAK) was up a little over 3%; Noble Corporation ( NE) was up 1.8%; ENSCO International ( ESV) was up 2.5% late on Wednesday afternoon. Atwood Oceanics ( ATW), was up close to 2.4% in late Wednesday trading action. Energy analysts say that playing these stocks in response to the latest news from Washington is fraught with political slicks and market risks. "It's a nice news point, but I'm a little skeptical about betting today based on what we've actually learned today," said Joe Hill, analyst with Tudor, Pickering, Holt. In effect, the rally in oil drilling stocks can be viewed in multiple ways. First and foremost, the rally in the oil drilling stocks was more or less a shot in the arm for a sector that has been undervalued, according to analysts. MKM Partners' Conlon said the oil drillers have been trading at 12 times this year's earnings and historically, the stocks have traded at multiples in the mid-teens. Phil Weiss of Argus Research said the oil driller stocks have been undervalued, but the market often reacts to positive news without thinking through the implications. "In the short-term, we don't know what it will mean other than the potential to have more rigs at work, and that's always a plus," Weiss said. The Argus Research analyst also said the oil drilling stocks are not well understood and often trade higher or lower for poor reasons. Weiss gave as one example that oil drilling companies generally argue that any oil price above $50 to $60 is enough to support a positive outlook. However, when oil goes from $80 to $90 -- or on the other hand, the price of oil moves down from $80 to $70 -- these oil drilling stocks react immediately. Wednesday's action was another example of an event that moved the stocks without having a huge impact, at least in the foreseeable future of an investor. Tudor, Pickering's Hill said another way to view the action in oil drilling stocks on Wednesday was as a negative call on the U.S. onshore natural gas market. "It's being driven by how bad things ought to get onshore with gas at $ 3.87. In this respect, it's a rational move for investors who have wanted get out of onshore gas, though I don't know how sustainable the trade is," Hill said.
Politics will remain a chief concern, as any attempt to link this offshore drilling issue with approval for a carbon cap and trade system -- as early reports suggest could be the case -- would raise the political ante. The news is being reported as an attempt by Obama to reach out to the Republicans whose votes he needs to pass comprehensive energy legislation that would also spur alternative energy development. Timing is also a huge issue. As MKM Partners' analyst Matthew Conlon noted, "We are a long way from even seismic studies." Tudor Picker's Hill agreed, saying "Everyone assumes the situation will get better soon, and that's not the case." Hill cited as an example press reports that there is as much as 3.5 years worth of oil supply in the untapped U.S. offshore market, based on data that is decades old. "They have no idea until they put holes down," Hill said, adding "I remain more concerned about the geological risk than the political risk." MKM Partners' Conlon said today's news, even in the best-case scenario without political hiccups, wouldn't lead to incremental drilling until the 2014-2015 period. -- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York. Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.