12 May, 2009

A Look at Energy with Oil racing back to $60

Oil, like many investment vehicles had been battered along the hard road from peaks in 2007 nearing $150. The fall in fact, had been so dramatic that prices for the commodity were down to $34 a barrel in February of this year. Set against the backdrop of American economic problems and the ongoing 'Carpocalypse' the slide in oil is completely understood.

However, of late, things are changing, and with a resurgence of market participation in the last 2 months, oil has enjoyed a steady climb and has now almost doubled off its lows. The traditional American big oil names have held steady as Exxon Mobil (XOM) is down 5% in the last 3 months, and up 1% in the last month, while competitor Chevron (CVX) has been virtually flat for 3 months. Nothing to light the socks off in any portfolio. These big names, which have enjoyed such outlandish record profits in recent years are being propped by their cash and their dividend payments, but none of that spells growth during a bullish run on the markets in this still economic-headline driven marketplace.

What has been making noise have been the smaller players. In the oil and energy business, small is of course relative. ConocoPhillips (COP), which reported recently an 80% year over year drop in profit has risen 12% in the last month, including a 4% pop on earnings day and its S&P rating of Strong Buy. Not to be outdone, Haliburton (HAL) has rallied strongly with a 34% gain in the same single month time frame.

In Canadian markets the big story of late was the deal stuck by Suncor (TSE:SU) to purchase Petro Canada (TSE:PCA) in a stock deal worth approximately $15Billion. On the news of the deal, Suncor stock fell but has since rallied back to the $35 level, which is about 6% higher than pre-deal prices. Petro-Canada, being the takeover target has consistently rallied from $30 to its current levels of $45/share. Who says M&A activity is dead?

Shifting to the drillers and the market has seen a similar story. Bigger Transocean (RIG), being outgained by smaller Nabors Industries (NBR). Despite estimate-topping earnings and a buy recommendation from Citigroup, RIG has performed only admirably when compared to gains from its smaller counterpart. Rig is higher by 22% and 10% in the 3-month and 1-month periods, while Nabors has shown gains of 59% and 40% in those same periods.

While the smaller players may have risen faster with the market ramp-up, Investors shouldn't let themselves get carried away, and take some energy-related profits when they present themselves. Headlines are already starting to change from a tone of "Go Bullish Rally" to "Is It a Suckers Rally" and it may just be that over the next couple of months the staple behemoths of the Energy industry will make the safest investments.

Disclosure: Author owns NBR, SU, recently sold PCA

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