U.S. crude oil futures are up to $45.99, for October 2016 deliveries, according to NYMEX, as of September 8, 2016.
That's helped boost the U.S. stock market to a one-year high, and investors are thirsty for more, especially after the American Petroleum Institute reported a 12.1 million decline in U.S. crude stocks for the first week of September.
Rising prices are already boosting worldwide emerging market stocks, which are up 1% this week, as oil prices rose, and the prospects of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike were muted after a weak U.S employment report for August. "Emerging markets have continued to rally, supported by a rise in commodity prices and continued expectations that the Fed will remain dovish," says Alex Wolf, emerging markets economist at Standard Life Investment's, in Edinburgh, Scotland.
That tandem has grabbed the attention of investment experts.
"More and more money managers are stepping up in support of more client assets in emerging market bourses, particularly those in big oil-producing nations," says Daniel S. Kern, chief investment strategist for TFC Financial Management, a $750 million investment firm in Boston.
Kern says his firm considers emerging markets as "an attractive investment destination," given long-term economic and earnings growth, favorable demographics and reasonable valuations compared to developed markets. "Emerging markets have bounced back in 2016 after a rough couple of years, and have certainly been helped by the partial recovery of oil prices," he says. "We think that leadership within emerging markets will ultimately shift from commodity-oriented investments to consumer-oriented opportunities, though the commodity-led rally may have some room left to run."
Helping those emerging market nations along is a continued stabilization in oil prices, with a big game-changer thrown into the mix. "Oil seems to be slowly moving toward supply/demand equilibrium - analysts we work with expect supply and demand to be in balance in 2017 with oil prices trading in a range between $50 and $60 per barrel," Kern adds. "As a long-time investor, it's fascinating to see the effective demise of OPEC as a price-setting cartel, replaced by shale producers who are now effectively setting the marginal price for oil."
Right now, the break-even cost for a significant portion of shale production is between $50 and $60, though technological innovation could bring that break-even down over time, Kern adds. "Of course, a change in the regulatory climate could have the opposite effect on shale break-even," he says.
At the country level, Kern says he is more enthusiastic about Argentina than about Brazil or Russia, as far as oil-rich emerging markets go.
"Argentina is emerging from a long stay in the 'doghouse' of global investors," Kern says. "With fresh leadership from the market-friendly Mauricio Macri, Argentina is adopting more prudent monetary and fiscal policies and is becoming a more attractive destination for foreign investment capital. The country will benefit from stabilizing commodity prices, and also is less encumbered by debt than Brazil."
That said, Brazil has been a big winner in 2016, with equities and the Brazilian real rallying sharply. "Brazil is benefiting from the rebound in oil prices and from relief inspired by the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff," Kern adds. "However, in my view, Brazil's rally may be a case of "too much too soon." The country binged on debt during the commodity boom, and faces high consumer, corporate and public debt".
Another big oil-producing nation - Russia - is something of a mixed bag, Kern says.
"Their economy is dominated by oil and is a primary beneficiary of the rebound in oil prices," he notes. "The Russian central bank has also taken prudent steps to combat inflation, helping to restore confidence in the Russian ruble. The downside to Russia is the dependence on oil, lack of a rule of law to protect investor rights, and continued geopolitical adventurism. It's really not a market for the faint of heart."
Gulen Tuncer, director of investment research & product development at global investment management firm Conning, with $105 billion in assets under management, agrees that the Russian economy faces too much volatility, even with rising oil prices.
"Both Russia and Brazil are countries with vast proven resources," Tuncer says. "In Russia's case, the controlled floating Russian currency helped lower costs in the lower price environment. Russia, in our view, has seen the trough but sanctions will keep growth prospects limited. The higher prices should help as due to sanctions, capital expenditure budgets have become restricted."
In Brazil's case, Tuncer, too, sees the impeachment of President Rousseff as a "first step" to move forward with the necessary reforms and adjustments to the fiscal accounts. "Having said that, the corruption scandal and the ensuing political crisis have hurt investor confidence," he adds. "While oil remains an important source of revenue for Brazil and higher oil price is a positive, we think that fundamental improvement in Brazil will take time."
Argentina, arguably has a better outlook, relative to other oil-dominant emerging market countries.
"With new administration's more progressive stance towards investment and the recently implemented domestic price hikes, there is higher incentive for investing in the development of the industry," he says. "Argentina's balance sheet still remains weak, but we do see potential for impressive growth under the new administration."
For oil investors, there could be opportunity in certain emerging markets right now, and going forward. And for the first time in a long while, that growth opportunity in oil could be sustainable.