The Dow Ekes Out a Friday Gain, but Exxon Mobil and Chevron Miss Out Again

Why are the Dow's energy stocks falling on an up-market day? Get the bigger picture here.

May 16, 2014 at 9:05PM
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The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) spent most of Friday trading near the unchanged level, as investors licked their wounds after two days of sharp losses on Wednesday and Thursday. But toward the end of the session, the Dow managed to climb, and closed the session up 43 points, cutting its total losses for the week to around half a percent. Still, not all of the Dow's component stocks shared in the gains, as Dow energy giants ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) both dropped on the day. Let's take a look at why energy stocks missed out on the Dow's positive day.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Paul Lowry

The many pressures on energy stocks
The energy industry has faced plenty of long-term challenges, and ExxonMobil and Chevron, in particular, have had to fight hard in order to defeat them. In the broadest terms, ExxonMobil and Chevron both have to make sure that they sustain oil and gas production at or above past levels in order to keep growth at acceptable levels, and that requires an ongoing effort to find new resources that are economically viable to develop. With oil prices lingering around the $100 per-barrel level, Chevron and ExxonMobil have some options in choosing projects for exploration that are costly to exploit, but still allow a profit at current prices. Yet, with futures markets projecting a slow but steady deterioration in oil prices in the future well below the $100 mark, neither Chevron nor ExxonMobil can lock in current prices for the long haul, and so expensive projects carry the risk that they might not be profitable if oil and gas prices fall below current levels.

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Source: ExxonMobil.

The need to explore in remote areas carries risks of its own, as well. The most obvious one right now is ExxonMobil's project in Russia, which faces the threat of retaliation for U.S. economic sanctions against Russia in connection with its role in the Ukrainian dispute. Responding to a report from a Russian media agency, ExxonMobil said today that it doesn't intend to withdraw from its Sakhalin-1 project in Russia, calling rumors "groundless," and arguing that sanctions would have no effect on investing in that project or in other investments within Russia. Similarly, in Argentina, Chevron might have to deal with fallout from an investigation of President Cristina Kirchner and her role in promoting oil and gas investment in the South American nation, as she was instrumental in setting up a joint venture between Chevron and Argentina's YPF. The worldwide search for resources creates geopolitical risk that both ExxonMobil and Chevron have to address and try to control.

Last but not least, with the increased difficulty in finding and producing energy, Chevron and ExxonMobil take on huge environmental risks if something goes wrong. Between Chevron's court battles in Ecuador, and the ever-present risk of oil spills that both companies face, the energy giants of the Dow Jones Industrials have to remain vigilant in their handling of energy products. As we saw in the Gulf of Mexico, the consequences of failure are immense, and become greater as we seek increasingly challenging places to explore for oil and gas.

On any given day, it's not all that surprising to see some stocks in the Dow Jones Industrials diverge from the average's general direction. In the long run, though, if ExxonMobil and Chevron want to participate in the Dow's overall success, they'll have to find ways to keep growing, even as the oil and gas industry gets increasingly difficult to navigate and profit from successfully.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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