Energy Industry Report – Energy stocks rise with oil prices

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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Michael Heim, CFA, Senior Research Analyst, Noble Capital Markets, Inc.

Refer to the bottom of the report for important disclosures

Energy stocks outpaced the general overall market in the March quarter due to a rise in oil prices. Higher oil prices reflect improving global economics and Middle East concerns. Natural gas prices continued to fall due to warm weather and high storage levels.

The United States is ramping up the export of oil and liquified natural gas. Oil exports have helped offset a reduction in  OPEC exports. The United States, once a large importer of LNG, is now the largest exporter. LNG exports have helped European countries replace gas from Russia.

Balance sheets have improved and management has become more disciplined. Most energy companies used the recent strength in energy prices to pay down debt and repurchase shares instead of expanding operations. This new-found discipline leaves the companies in a good position to make investments quickly should energy prices rise, which we believe could happen with an improvement in global economic conditions.

We remain positive on the sector. We look for energy companies, especially those focused on oil, to continue to outpace the overall market should energy prices rise.

Energy stocks, as measured by the Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLE), rose 12.9% during the quarter ended March 31, 2024. The increase was slightly higher than the 10.2% increase in the S&P Composite index. Energy stocks were boosted by a 16.1% increase in the May oil futures prices, which more than offset a 29.9% decrease in the May natural gas futures price. 

At current oil prices, domestic producers are able to produce oil at profitable levels. Oil production has grown from 5 million barrels of oil per day (mmboe/d) in 2008 to the current level above 12 mmboe/d. Most of the production has come from increased drilling in the Permian Basin. Rig count has risen steadily in recent years to a level above 500 rigs but remains well below the 1600 rig level seen as recently as 2012. Increase production from fewer rigs demonstrated productivity gains in recent years as well as an increased focus on drilling in the Permian Basin, an area with high initial flow rates.

Figure #1

As domestic production grows, the United States has taken on an increased role supplying oil across the world. Oil exports have grown steadily in recent years. U.S. production has largely replaced the import of oil from OPEC which has declined from 0.20 million barrels of oil per day in 2008 to 0.03 million mmboe/d in January 2024.

Figure #2

An even more dramatic story can be told regarding natural gas production. Production continues to rise even as natural gas prices remain weak. Higher production comes despite a reduction in natural gas rigs from a peak level near 1600 in 2008 to the current level of 112. Once again, increased productivity comes due to a focus on drilling in areas with shale formations where horizontal drilling and fracking greatly increase initial production rates.

Figure #3

The United States has been steadily increasing the amount of liquified natural gas it exports. In fact, the United States has recently become the largest exporter of LNG. This transformation from being the largest importer of LNG to becoming the largest exporter has taken place in less than 20 years. Much of the increase in exports reflects increased deliveries to European countries in response to a decrease in natural gas from Russia.

Figure #4

The increased involvement in the global energy trade has improved the profitability of domestic producers. Most producers are receiving high netbacks at current energy prices. This is especially true for producers focused on oil. With strong balance sheets and a new-found management discipline that focuses on rewarding shareholders over expanding operations, we believe most energy companies are well positioned to grow earnings and cash flow at current prices. At the same time, they are able to expand operations should prices rise, as we believe could happen as global economic conditions improve. We look for energy stocks to continue their strength and maintain our favorable outlook on the group.


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Senior Equity Analyst focusing on Basic Materials & Mining. 20 years of experience in equity research. BA in Business Administration from Westminster College. MBA with a Finance concentration from the University of Missouri. MA in International Affairs from Washington University in St. Louis.
Named WSJ ‘Best on the Street’ Analyst and Forbes/StarMine’s “Best Brokerage Analyst.”
FINRA licenses 7, 24, 63, 87


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