WTI, the U.S. oil price benchmark, is crashing today. May contracts for that oil benchmark have nosedived more than 40% to around $10 a barrel, its lowest level since 1986. However, that's mainly due to near-term storage issues in the U.S. That's why the global benchmark, Brent, is only down about 6% on the day while WTI contracts that expire in later months are down even less. December, for example, is only off by about 1% today and still trades at more than $30 a barrel.
As a result, most energy stocks aren't falling very much today. Quite the opposite in some cases, as several are rallying sharply because slumping oil prices in the near term will benefit them in the future. Leading the charge higher are Antero Resources (AR 0.66%), Antero Midstream (AM -0.33%), EQT (EQT 3.09%), and Crestwood Equity Partners (CEQP 0.98%), which were all up more than 10% by 11:45 a.m. EDT on Monday.
What these four have in common is that they either produce natural gas (Antero Resources and EQT) or focus on gathering and processing that commodity (Antero Midstream and Crestwood Equity). The price of natural gas is heading in the opposite direction, rallying about 3%.
The main factor fueling gas is that oil producers in the U.S. are starting to shut in wells due to low prices. ConocoPhillips (COP -1.27%), for instance, plans to begin turning off pumps next month. Overall, ConocoPhillips expects to curtail 125,000 barrels of oil per day, as well as some associated natural gas. Those curtailments, as well as industrywide reductions in drilling and completing new oil wells, will impact not only oil production but also the associated gas volumes that come out of these wells. That will help alleviate some of the country's gas glut, which has weighed on pricing. Those higher prices would benefit gas-focused producers like Antero Resources and EQT.
The moves by oil-focused producers could have a meaningful impact on gas production in the country, which could open up an opportunity for gas-focused drillers to complete more wells and pick up the slack. Those higher volumes would benefit producers as well as companies focused on gathering and processing gas like Antero Midstream and Crestwood Equity Partners.
Crestwood recently noted that the oil market downturn hasn't impacted its operations as much as investors feared. Consequently, the company plans to maintain its quarterly distribution for now. At the current rate, it yields an eye-popping 34% following a more than 75% drop in its stock price this year. While Crestwood might need to reduce its payout in the future if market conditions continue to deteriorate, it's in a better position to weather this storm thanks to its stronger financial profile.
The energy sector remains in turmoil because of massive excess supply. While that's putting a lot of near-term pressure on oil prices due to the industry's storage issues, it's taking off some of the weight that had been on natural gas. That doesn't necessarily make gas stocks worth buying since the industry has a knack for wasting opportunities by chasing growth at all costs.