Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
U.S. stocks have shrugged off yesterday's losses and pushed higher today despite the rising price of oil. WTI Crude oil rose 0.8% today to $110 per barrel and even touched $112 for a moment, driven by speculation that the U.S. and its allies will get involved in the Syrian conflict. But higher oil prices aren't having the same negative effect on markets today that they had yesterday: Near the end of the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is up 0.61%, and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) has risen 0.59%.
The only other significant economic news was a National Association of Realtors report that pending home sales fell 1.3% in July. This wasn't shocking, given the rise in interest rates since May, but there's a huge lag in housing data, and this is still one of the early signs that show the market slowing.
Trading on the Dow is generally mixed, but energy stocks are trading sharply higher today. Chevron (NYSE:CVX) is up 2.8%, while ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) is up 2.3%, driven by fear (or hope, depending on how you look at it) that oil prices will rise because of the Syrian conflict. But let's put this into perspective.
Syria isn't a huge player in the oil trade, and the U.S. has already cut off oil trading with Syria. The EU put an embargo in place as well, but this spring it began buying oil from rebel-held regions. Disruption in this trade would have little impact on either developed economy.
The danger is that Syrian allies like Iran and Russia rush to the country's aid, escalating the conflict into more than a Syrian battle. If that happens, there are a lot of fathomable consequences that could disrupt oil flow to the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world. But we're a long way from that outcome.
For oil companies, the story is even more complex. Higher oil prices mean higher profits for exploration and production businesses, but it also means higher costs for refining and retail. Chevron and ExxonMobil have exposure up and down the market, so unless they can pass their costs along in the form of higher gas prices, the rising price of oil could actually pinch profits. So far, that doesn't appear to be happening, because gasoline is only about $0.02 more expensive today than it was a week ago.