5 Ways to Play Falling Oil Prices

Remember when oil was bumping up against $150 a barrel over the summer? Well, crude oil futures dipped below $75 yesterday, dropping prices to levels last seen in the summer of 2007.

The market isn't soaking this in just yet. It's too busy dumping toxic bank stocks and quivering in panic rooms to notice. With OPEC slashing global consumption targets, falling oil prices are actually being portrayed as yet another reason to roll into a fetal position. Remember when stocks fell because prices at the pump were going higher?

Oil prices don't cut both ways, though. There are some real stocks with plenty to gain if oil prices stabilize, or even fall further. Once sanity returns to the volatile markets, these companies will be rewarded accordingly.

5 stocks to fuel your portfolio
Let's go over a few companies that stand to benefit from low oil prices. Some are more obvious than others, but they should all benefit from the recent decline in oil prices.

Company

10/15/08

52-Week High

Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV  )

$11.56

$16.77

Carnival (NYSE: CCL  )

$27.82

$49.49

Steiner Leisure (Nasdaq: STNR  )

$22.62

$47.37

Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  )

$0.42

$3.94

Garmin (Nasdaq: GRMN  )

$22.88

$125.68

Southwest is a no-brainer. Jet fuel prices represent a major cost component for the airlines. The air carrier's knack for hedging its energy costs may get in the way of the company truly benefiting from the recent precipitous plunge, but Southwest remains the class of the industry. It has rattled off 70 consecutive quarters of profitability, an amazing feat in this highly cyclical industry that is typically a destroyer of value. With struggling rivals scaling back their flights, Southwest now has favorable tailwinds helping it through its ascent.

Carnival is the world's leading cruise-line operator. It knows all about the pain of buoyant oil prices. During last month's quarterly report, Carnival lamented how fuel prices have soared 77% over the past year, accounting for a thick $0.28-a-share bite out of the period's profitability. How sweet do you think the company's finances will look now that oil prices have reversed all of the past year's gains? The company even hacked away at its fuel surcharge for future sailings, though it's making the margin-enhancing move of working some of that into a fare hike. It also doesn't hurt that the stock is yielding a hefty 5.3% at the moment. Rival Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL  ) isn't too shabby, either, given its current 3.2% yield.

Steiner cracks its trained knuckles to massage the rollback of fuel surcharges. As the provider of spa services on most major cruise ships, including Carnival, it stands to benefit as passengers receiving surcharge relief apply that money to spa treatments -- or spa-product purchases -- once onboard. Steiner is now fetching just eight times this year's projected earnings.

Sirius XM is another likely winner. What's been holding the company back lately? Since it hasn't been a force at the retail level for a couple of years now, the radio platform's growth has come mostly from new car purchases. Lower oil prices won't necessarily convince a hybrid owner to trade the Prius in for an Escalade, but it should help reverse the trend of drivers scaling back the time they spend on the road. That's just what Sirius XM needs. With commuters spending more time on driving, paying roughly $13 a month for premium satellite radio is easier to justify. Heck, the savings on a single fill-up these days can more than pay for a month of XM or Sirius.

Garmin has also fallen sharply over the past year, crying for drivers to hit the road again. Garmin's problems go beyond dashboard value-proposition hang-ups. The market leader in GPS gadgetry is facing a competitive landscape, in which car makers and smartphone manufacturers are beefing up their GPS functionality. However, it's undeniable that gas-weary drivers limiting their road trips are less likely to spring for a Garmin nuvi, so less pain at the pump can only help.

Drive on, investor
Air carriers, cruising specialists, auto gadgetry? If they all stand to benefit, it follows that travel portals like Priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) will also fare well. If lower gas prices also put more disposable income in our collective pockets, that's a bonus.

Naturally, the good times will have to wait if our economic woes deepen. Lower oil prices may reduce our commuting costs and lower our grocery bills, but that does the beneficiaries no good if the economy is swallowing down those surplus greenbacks even more quickly.

Nothing is perfect. However, if you connect the dots, it's clear that many of these leisure-based companies will thrive if the economy bounces back during a time of lower oil prices. Mr. Market will get around to rewarding those companies. After all, he has to pump his own gas, too.

Some other tales of low-priced stocks on the move:

My fellow Fools are hitting the road! Members of the Rule Breakers newsletter team are out in Silicon Valley right now, interviewing some of the more promising growth companies in the planet. You can read all of the daily missives with a premium subscription to the service.

Garmin is a Global Gains pick. Steiner Leisure is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Priceline.com, and Garmin are Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is such a fan of satellite radio that he subscribes to both Sirius and XM. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 16, 2008, at 2:49 PM, DemianBohemian wrote:

    Thanks for pointing a real positive for SIRI. Lower gas prices is great for car sales and great for SIRI as more cars get sold and people spend more time on the road. A 90% decline in the share price in the last year puts SIRI in the screaming buy category. Way oversold here, as they are just about to be cash flow positive and realize huge savings from the merger.

  • Report this Comment On October 16, 2008, at 5:41 PM, gbad00 wrote:

    Some of these connections are not only unobvious, they are farfetched. Cheaper oil > more mileage > more radio and more gadgets, lower fuel prices = massages etc. You people have too much pressure on you to keep cranking out verbiage. Give it a rest until something of substance comes along.

  • Report this Comment On October 16, 2008, at 6:01 PM, mberan wrote:

    Why do you continue to harp on SIRI? It's a penny stock now! I thought The Fool didn't deal with penny stocks.

    This was a $14 dollar stock at one point. It's now on its last legs and not doing anything except losing money. Once they decide to basically give the receiver and a standard package of channels away, they'll remain a penny stock.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2008, at 12:13 PM, fibreoptik wrote:

    Invest in Turkey? Thanks, but I only do that once a year... at THANKSGIVING. :p

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