As stock markets and oil prices tumble in tandem, savvy investors will be aware that such a situation creates some opportunities.
Some of the fall in oil prices is down to increased supply of crude, and no doubt some of the stock market decline is a natural and probably healthy correction after 18 months of solid gains.
There is, however, one fear that is driving both lower: worry about a global slowdown, particularly in Europe and China. If that materializes, most economies will be affected, but recent data suggest that the U.S. economy is so far continuing on its path of recovery. The ideal investment opportunity, then, would be one that is poised to benefit from lower oil prices, but is more connected to the U.S. economy than the global one.
Fortunately, there is a sector that fits that description.
It is fairly obvious that transportation stocks would benefit from lower oil prices. As much as we may hear about natural gas and electric-powered vehicles, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) still estimates that 92 percent of the energy used for transportation in the U.S. comes from oil.
That said, though, a careful consideration of the overall picture would suggest that not all transportation stocks are good investments, so broad based strategies such as The SPDR S&P Transportation ETF (XTN 1.68%) should be avoided, as it is heavily invested in railroads and major airlines.
The falling oil price could have a devastating effect on railroads. Most have been frantically diverting resources to the very profitable business of hauling oil that has been produced as a result of the much talked about "shale boom" in America. That oil is being produced in areas that aren't traditional oil centers, so pipeline infrastructure is lagging, creating great business for railroads.
The problem is that production costs are high in many of those oilfields, often over $80 per barrel of oil. If oil prices fall much further, it would be reasonable to expect production, and therefore rail transportation, to slow. The major airlines, similarly, could benefit from lower fuel costs, but a reduction in international travel if the rest of the world slows down would also affect them negatively.
The trucking industry, however, is heavily dependent on oil and is, by definition, more of a domestic play for U.S. investors. There would be some concern about slowing business in the event of a true global recession and that would rule out international giants such as Fedex (FDX -0.32%) and UPS (UPS -0.25%) as too risky. Internet Truckstop's Market Demand Index, a measure of trucking volume in the U.S., however, continues on an upward path and that has been reflected in rates with overall equipment rates up 9.5 percent on a year-to-year basis this week.
In other words, trucking companies with mainly U.S. domestic exposure are doing fine and face the prospect of lower fuel costs in the near future. JB Hunt Transportation (JBHT 1.43%) is the largest of these, with revenues of over $5.5 billion last year. It has increased revenue and profits every year since 2009 and is on track to do so again this year. The company's stock, however, has still been dragged down with the broader market since August, as you can see in this chart.
When equity and commodity markets fall in unison, it can be a worrying time for investors. History tells us, however, that it is usually a good time to buy, if somewhat selectively. JBHT operates primarily in an economy that is still showing strength, has a history of growth, and is set to benefit from a reduction in their cost of doing business. If you have the inclination and courage to buy in a falling market, this stock should be a part of your plans.