Major benchmarks fell on Monday morning, giving back ground from last week's monumental gains. Investors fretted about the impact of a drone attack on key Saudi Arabian energy infrastructure over the weekend, and many analysts argued that the response in the financial markets merely recognized the risks that have existed all along. As of 11 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was down 146 points to 27,074. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) fell 11 points to 2,996, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) dropped 31 points to 8,146.
Soaring oil prices worked to the benefit of major energy companies, with both ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) doing their part to keep the Dow from suffering larger losses. Meanwhile, a rise in gas prices could also eventually affect General Motors (NYSE:GM), but the auto giant has more immediate problems to address in the form of a worker strike.
Oil stocks rising
Shares of ExxonMobil and Chevron were up about 1% to 2% as energy investors responded to the attacks on Saudi production facilities. West Texas Intermediate crude saw prices rise almost $6 per barrel to climb above the $60 mark, while Brent crude saw similar-sized gains to move above $66 per barrel. For Exxon and Chevron, which have long suffered from depressed energy prices, the move higher in oil prices signaled new hope that significant profit growth will return to the oil patch.
The impact rippled well beyond the integrated oil majors. Smaller exploration and production companies generally saw even bigger gains on a percentage basis, as did the energy services companies that provide them with the materials and information they need to drill for oil and natural gas. Midstream energy transportation providers also moved higher. Only the refining sector saw mixed performance, as some players in the industry had to deal with their sources of low-priced crude potentially disappearing.
Some have been quick to dismiss the importance of the attack on Saudi Arabia to global energy markets, pointing out that the U.S. has now challenged the Persian Gulf nation as a key exporter of crude oil. Yet even with a somewhat depressed global economy, demand for energy has remained strong, especially at lower prices. Any long-term bottleneck stemming from the attacks could create an imbalance, and it'll take time for other producers to boost activity in order to replace lost Saudi production. With assets around the world, that bodes well for both Chevron and ExxonMobil.
A general strike at General Motors
Shares of General Motors were down almost 3% as investors weighed the prospects for extended labor unrest at the automaker. The United Auto Workers initiated its first strike against GM in a dozen years, and the move has significant financial implications for General Motors.
The UAW cited its "tirelessly helping General Motors reach record-level profits" as a basis for the labor action, arguing that "GM refuses to give even an inch to help hard-working middle-class families" in areas like wages, healthcare, profit-sharing, and job security. The strike, which began just before midnight Sunday evening, will involve about 48,000 of the automaker's workers.
For GM, some estimate the cost of the strike at roughly $50 million per day. Yet the impact on local economies will extend beyond the company's workers. Key areas of the Midwest that rely on GM plants could take collateral economic damage as the impact of lost wages trickles down to the retailers and service providers that serve auto workers.
Car and truck buyers won't have to worry about supplies of GM vehicles, as inventory levels are high. Yet if customers choose to honor striking workers by taking purchases elsewhere, it could deal a longer-term hit to General Motors.