For folks who'd prefer to avoid the rough-and-tumble world of oil futures trading, a less direct option is to hold shares of well-known drillers like Occidental Petroleum (OXY 0.26%). That way, they can capture the upside of big oil-price moves while staking a claim in an established name with a big market capitalization.
How has this strategy panned out over the last couple of years? It's fun and instructive to play hindsight quarterback and calculate the gains you would have reaped if you had bought a stock at just the right time. In the case of Occidental shares, buying when there was blood (or perhaps oil) in the streets would have been a brilliant move -- and this begs the question of whether there are more gains to be made by this commodities-market mainstay.
From the depths of despair
When the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price briefly crashed to a minus $40 per barrel on April 20, 2020, the broader stock market was starting to recover from the March lows, but some oil stocks would continue to struggle. A case in point would be Occidental Petroleum, which hit a short-term trough slightly below $10 in March 2020, only to plumb new depths below $9 in October of that year.
It would have required 20/20 vision in 2020, but buying Occidental shares at $9 would have resulted in a windfall for prescient traders. Fast-forward to July 1, 2022, and Occidental Petroleum stock sat comfortably at $60, for a return on investment (ROI) of roughly 567%. With that, lucky or brilliant investors could have flipped $10,000 (or 1,111 Occidental shares at $9 apiece) into $66,660 (1,111 x $60).
Among the major drivers of those gains were the recovery of the economy from the COVID-19 crisis and, of course, oil-price inflation.
This leads us to the present. Assuming you don't happen to have a time machine that can transport you back to 2020 -- but not assuming another major oil-price catalyst will happen in the near future -- would it make sense to buy Occidental Petroleum stock today?
Expect growth, not miracles
First things first: Don't expect another two-year 567% ROI at this point as the circumstances of 2020 and 2021 were truly extraordinary. Even if COVID-19's lingering effects persist, there's no way to reproduce the initial shock of America's first pandemic in half a century.
That doesn't mean Occidental's investors can't expect reasonable returns in the coming quarters. At a trailing price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 9.1, Occidental's shares are attractively priced. The stock also offers a forward dividend yield of 0.88%.
Moreover, growth-focused traders should have no trouble finding positive data points in Occidental's most recently issued quarterly results. In 2022's first quarter, net sales increased 57.7% to $8.35 billion while costs and other deductions stayed nearly flat. Even better, the company went from a $346 million loss in Q1 2021 to a net income of $4.68 billion.
Granted, the positive momentum could end at any given moment if the oil price crashes or other extrinsic circumstances intervene. But then, oil-market investors should always be prepared for outsized potential losses or gains -- and if the next couple of years continue to reflect Occidental Petroleum's growth trajectory, they could enjoy less dramatic but nonetheless positive returns.