Investors had to wait four months into 2014 to see the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) hit a new record closing high, but if the index can hold on to its morning gains, it'll reach its second record this year a whole lot sooner. As of 12:30 p.m. EDT, the Dow was up 97 points, setting itself up for a possible all-time high at the end of trading. Yet even though news on the economic and geopolitical fronts look better than in past weeks, Dow components ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) were among a handful of stocks that actually lost ground in the broader market's run-up.
ExxonMobil's 0.3% drop comes as somewhat of a surprise, given the news yesterday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had withdrawn forces from the Ukraine border. The de-escalation helped reduce the chances of economic sanctions against Russia, which could have prompted Moscow to clamp down on projects such as ExxonMobil's partnership with Rosneft in the Russian Arctic region. Yet even though easing tensions could make Exxon's Russia projects more likely to continue, a study from a nongovernmental climate-change policy group argues that those and similarly expensive exploration projects could end up being a waste of investment capital, given the need for prevailing oil prices to stay high in order to justify their higher costs. Some investors will dismiss the group's study as pursuing a specific agenda, but the financial risks involved in high-cost drilling are substantial even without considering the potential climate-change impacts.
Meanwhile, Chevron fell half of a percent after being downgraded by an analyst firm. Investors are concerned about Chevron's ability to keep production growing, despite a reasonably strong pipeline of future development projects that the company hopes will lead to higher oil and gas volumes. Unlike ExxonMobil, which chose to keep capital expenditures under control in order to keep overall costs down, Chevron expects to spend more freely on prospective new discoveries and on existing projects. For long-term investors, though, analysts' focus on short-term profit trends isn't nearly as important as the greater challenge of figuring out where future production growth will come from. Without continual additions of resources, neither Chevron nor ExxonMobil are likely to succeed in keeping revenue on the rise, and that could spell big long-run problems for both of the oil giants.
The energy components of the Dow Jones Industrials represent an important constituency in the broader stock market. Given how important the energy boom has been to U.S. economic growth in recent years, any signs of weakness from energy stocks is worthy of attention from investors considering making an investment in the Dow.
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