What happened

Shares of Noble Energy (NBL) plummeted 17.8% in May, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. Not only did slumping crude prices weigh on the oil producer's stock price, but the company made matters worse by reporting lackluster first-quarter results.

So what

Oil prices plunged last month, with the U.S. oil benchmark, WTI, tumbling 16% to close at $53.50 a barrel, which was its lowest level since mid-February. The main issue affecting oil prices in May was renewed concern that the global economy could slow down due to the trade war between the U.S. and China. On top of that, the U.S. plans to impose tariffs on Mexico -- which is a key energy trading partner -- to force that country to help solve its immigration issues. The concern is that these added costs will weaken demand for oil.

Oil pumps beneath a red and blue sky.

Image source: Getty Images.

The slump in crude prices weighed on Noble Energy, since it will directly impact the company's cash flow. The other issue hitting shares of Noble Energy last month was its first-quarter results. The oil and gas company posted an adjusted loss of $44 million, or $0.09 per share, which missed analysts' expectations by $0.03 per share because it didn't capture as much for its oil and gas as they anticipated.

On a more positive note, Noble Energy did produce 337,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE/D), including 253,000 BOE/D from its U.S. onshore operations, which exceeded the top end of its guidance range. The main driver was its position in the DJ Basin, which delivered record production thanks to strong drilling results. However, the company also guided that output in the second quarter would be between 332,000 and 347,000 BOE/D, which is below the consensus estimate of 348,430 BOE/D. But that's mainly due to timing, which is why the company reaffirmed its full-year forecast.

Now what

Noble Energy hopes to reach an inflection in its business next year when it should benefit from expansion projects that it expects to complete by the end of 2019. Those investments have the company on track to accelerate its growth rate from about 5% this year up to 15% to 20% in 2020. Further, they should enable the company to generate $500 million in free cash, which it aims to return to investors via its dividend and share repurchase program. That makes it an intriguing oil stock to watch with 2020 in mind.