2 Contrarian Investments for the Situation in Iraq

The troubles in Iraq have made two top companies much cheaper.

Jun 18, 2014 at 3:12PM

As both investors and non-investors know, violence in Iraq has been escalating as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, fighters have captured major Iraqi cities and threatened the stability of the nation. Besides the geopolitical concerns, this situation has major implications for investors because of stability concerns and the effects on oil prices.

For investors looking to pick up some investments on the cheap, these two companies have been hurt by rising tensions and are worth a look for risk-tolerant contrarian investors.

Airline pain
Since 2012, shares of major airlines have gained altitude at an amazing rate, with all three big legacy carriers at least doubling investors' money and most other carriers posting similar gains. However, the latest move higher in oil prices led to an industrywide sell-off last week, with many carriers posting losses of over 10% from their peaks.

Investors willing to bet that oil production can continue and keep prices from rising too much higher can now pick up some of the best-performing airlines at significant discounts from their highs in the first week of June.

From an oil spike risk perspective, Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) would be my top pick for an opportunistic airline investment. Unlike some other major carriers that have done away with their fuel hedging programs, Delta has kept its own program running to try to reduce volatility. If this spike lasts a few weeks before cooling down, Delta's hedging program could soften the hit to earnings.

Delta has also positioned itself better financially to ride out a tougher period for the industry. Record profits have enabled the airline to dramatically reduce debt levels and the airline's conservative approach to purchasing new aircraft has left it with fewer outstanding commitments. Although Delta's fleet will be older than those of its rivals, it has still been careful in choosing which aircraft to replace to balance upfront costs and fuel efficiency.

Regional business
A rise in oil prices is generally good for oil companies, unless that company is in the area where tensions are causing the rise. Gulf Keystone Petroleum (NASDAQOTH:GUKYF) (LSE:GKP) shareholders are now among those feeling the pressure from tensions in Iraq, as the company is extracting oil from Iraq's Kurdistan region.

Shares of Gulf Keystone are down almost 50% since violence began to escalate in March, with part of the drop happening last week, as shares fell from around 90 to 80 GBp. While the risks of a company doing business in Iraq should not be ignored, the fact remains that the Kurdistan region hasn't seen the same levels of violence being seen in other parts of Iraq.

Even as the violence continues, Gulf Keystone says it's still on track to increase production at the rates laid out in previous targets. Reuters reports that the company still says production is running at 16,000 gross barrels per day and has plans to increase that figure to 20,000 later in the year.

Gulf Keystone's oil fields also appear to be under less of a threat from ISIS fighters, who are pressing south toward Baghdad and other areas under direct Iraqi government control. There is still a risk that ISIS will move into the Kurdistan region, but the group's main target appears to be the Iraqi government, which has more direct control over the southern portion of Iraq.

Investors looking to buy shares of Gulf Keystone Petroleum should strongly consider trading on the London Stock Exchange, where liquidity is far greater than in the United States.

Bottom line: The contrarian play
With the security of the Iraqi government under threat, shares of companies that consume large amounts of jet fuel and companies doing business in Iraq have both seen their share prices hit hard. But Delta, with its fuel hedging program, and Gulf Keystone Petroleum, being located in the Kurdistan region, provide a slightly greater layer of protection that could make them worthwhile contrarian investments.

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Alexander MacLennan owns shares of and has options on Delta Air Lines. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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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