It just doesn't make sense that oil is relentless in its advance, especially when many other commodities are being hammered. Oil cuts toward some sort of doomsday scenario involving Russia and a genuine clash with the West. Otherwise there's oil coming out of our ears globally, and the U.S. is importing less and less of it. Again, it just makes no sense, but those oil prices are going to start hurting this country at the retail level if this keeps up.
Now, to stoke the hatred people have for this market, let's break down the micro. The best-performing stocks since the slide began? Hands down, the utilities. OK, I get that: search for yield. But the best-performing utilities? Nope, not the highest dividend yielders, but the ones with the greatest growth, led by Exelon (EXC), Edison International (EIX) and NRG (NRG), all of which have among the lowest yields in the group. That's totally counterintuitive to people who say this move is all about the yield. Again, it's too confusing for most who are trying to figure this moment out.
Two telcos have held up well and are now advancing -- CenturyLink (CTL) and AT&T (T) -- and I believe it's because they yield 6% and 5%, respectively. Again, I am willing to call that a thirst for yield.
That thirst is hard to slake. For example, lots of real estate investment trusts, particularly the office-building and retail REITs, have been bid up for their yield. But, as with the utilities, the ones that are still rallying have puny yields -- yet they keep going higher. It's almost as if people say, "I want yield; buy some utilities," and they aren't even realizing they aren't getting good yield anymore.
But some yield is just not considered to be any good. They aren't created equal. Consider the master limited partnerships. These stocks have all been awful except Enterprise Products Partners (EPD), which is the most fully valued and has one of the lowest dividend yields. The higher-yielding ones seem shell-shocked, a result of too many equity offerings -- think Markwest Energy (MWE) -- or too much worry about distribution cuts, as with Linn (LINE) and Kinder Morgan (KMP). Although I don't think that will happen, I didn't think that Boardwalk Pipeline (BWP) would slash its distribution, and that has cast a pall over all but EPD and a couple of other pure toll roads with no commodity exposure and plenty of room to grow.
Next bizarre area of strength after the utilities? It's in the polar opposite of the utilities: machinery. I told you this is an exercise in counterintuitive and befuddling logic. Yep, Deere (DE), Terex (TEX), Joy (JOY) and Caterpillar (CAT) are all roaring higher. Again, these are total mixed messages. Sure, some crops are doing well, so Deere can be reconciled in the U.S. But business outside the U.S. is iffy at best. Joy? Coal is horrendous. Sorry, it is simply horrendous. There is no future for coal in this country, even though a short-term and short-lived natural gas spike has caused some switching. The sector is in permanent secular decline and, therefore, so is Joy. Is it selling itself? Perhaps, but after the disastrous Bucyrus buy by Caterpillar, who would be that foolish?
The only explanation? Perhaps Europe needs to stockpile coal because of a Ukrainian war and Russia potentially cutting off oil and gas? Could that be why people are buying Joy?
It wouldn't surprise me, because the best-performing energy stocks, despite the oil spike above $103 per barrel, are the natural gas stocks. This is despite the fact that natural gas prices seem to have peaked. The moves in these -- Southwestern (SWN), Encana (ECA), Ultra (UPL) -- are insane. The only one that's being crushed is the one that had been the favorite for years, Cabot Oil & Gas (COG). I think we are getting this move because people actually believe those companies, with the exception of Cabot, are going to supply the world with natural gas. Cabot can't because its natural gas is spoken for by New England agreements.
Caterpillar? What can I say? It's absurd. But it appears there is not a seller to be found, no matter where this stock trades. It's the same with Terex, which is a poor man's Caterpillar.