Energy Stocks Avoid Market Sell-Off

ExxonMobil and Chevron are holding up well as the Dow Jones Industrial Average sells off, but the long-term picture may not be as bright.

Travis Hoium
Travis Hoium
Apr 11, 2014 at 3:30PM

It's another wild day on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) falling 0.6% and the Nasdaq Composite down 1% in late trading.

Once again, the sell-off seemed to come from nowhere and fly in the face of positive economic data. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment rose to an initial April reading of 82.6, the highest level since July. Strong consumer sentiment doesn't guarantee economic growth, but with consumers accounting for 70% of GDP it's a good place to start.  

Consumers haven't been willing to pay more at the pump recently, which is pinching Chevron's margins. Source: Chevron.

Big Oil outshines the market
With markets down big, it's notable that the two bellwether energy stocks on the Dow are holding up well. ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) was down just 0.1% while Chevron (NYSE:CVX) was the Dow's second-best stock of the day, climbing 0.6%.

Ironically, this comes a day after Chevron said first-quarter earnings will be lower sequentially and output will be down from a year ago. Refining margins on the West Coast are also expected to be down, although the Gulf Coast should be improved.  

Costs are rising for developing oil, pinching margins because prices haven't kept pace. But those lower expectations were already baked into the stock and investors weren't shocked to learn that income will fall.

Massive rigs like this now play a major roll in Big Oil's production. Source: ExxonMobil.

Over at ExxonMobil, shareholders are scheduled to vote on one environmental resolution at a May 28 meeting. Environmentalists and other activists had hoped to get two other proposals regarding greenhouse gas restrictions and hydraulic fracturing on the ballot, but a those proposals were pulled in a March 20 deal with the groups. Instead, ExxonMobil recently released an assessment of risk associated with oil fields and other assets from carbon limits and climate change and will also disclose risks of fracking.  

You might wonder why two companies facing challenges from the macro environment, as well as activists, could be holding their value; you have to take a broader look at the market to understand why. Energy is about as stable an investment as can be found right now, and as investors flee from high P/E tech stocks these are seen as safer investments.

That doesn't change the long-term challenges for Big Oil, but it explains why they're holding up well today.