What: In one of those hard-to-wrap-your-mind-around situations, shares of Oasis Petroleum (NYSE:OAS), Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL), and WPX Energy (NYSE:WPX) all saw their shares decline 10% or more as of 2:45 p.m. EDT Friday. Brexit-related fears appear to be the reason they were so drastically impacted, but it's really hard to see the EU's troubles as a reasonable excuse to sell these stocks.
So what: When we tried to find connections between the values of Oasis, Whiting, and WPX and the situation in Europe today, we found two -- but both of them are a huge stretch. The first thing that could connect them is that a U.K. exit from the EU has the potential to cause a recession across much of the globe, which, in turn, would reduce demand and prices for oil and gas worldwide over the longer term. That fear has sent prices for both foreign and domestic crude oil sharply lower.
So basically, today's sellers of these three companies are making a bet on the worst-case scenario for what the Brexit will do. However, that scenario doesn't factor in the myriad other things that will influence oil and gas prices over the next several years, nor that prices will also be impacted by the fact that we have been under-investing in maintaining production and planning for further growth for a couple years now. That, more than anything, will have a decisive impact on oil and gas prices.
The other scenario that might play into the sell-off of Oasis, Whiting, and WPX shares is that the Brexit could lead to higher borrowing costs as lenders become more conservative. This would be relevant for these three stocks because all three have outspent their operational cash flows for several years now and have been wholly dependent on outside funding -- like taking on debt -- to meet those needs. In recent months, credit ratings agencies have downgraded Oasis, Whiting, and WPX, so their borrowing costs have already increased. If interest rates were to increase globally, as some fear might happen now, then it could impact their ability to grow.
Now what: So let's look more carefully at these two issues, which may concern an investor in these three stocks. Both relate to worst-case views on what the UK referendum results will mean. But even the most well-versed European law experts and economists don't have the slightest clue as to the full effects of Brexit. So to take any action today is very presumptuous.
The other thing that today's pessimism doesn't really account for is that it doesn't appear these three companies will change their current trajectories. All three have been trying to operate within their cash flows by reducing overall spending and finding operational efficiencies to lower production costs. All have shown in multiple investor presentations that they've brought their break-even prices for oil and gas down markedly in recent years.
There are reasons why investors might want to sell shares of Oasis, Whiting, and WPX. Owning stock in independent oil and gas producers means that your returns are pretty much at mercy of commodity prices, and that can be a rather stomach-churning experience for some. Or perhaps the continued losses in the sector while America's shale production is starting to stall have them looking for greener pastures elsewhere. Those are valid reasons for selling shares. The U.K. departing from the EU is not one.