The price of crude oil has been cut in half over the past few months. While that's bad news for oil companies and OPEC, it's great news for oil consumers. Heavy users of oil-based products in particular should thrive under a low-oil-price environment.
Given that backdrop, we asked our analysts for their top stock picks that will benefit should cheap oil stay with us for a while longer. Here's what they had to say.
Daniel Miller: My pick comes from an obvious industry, but from a unique angle. The cost of fuel for airlines is roughly 30%; it's the most crucial cost for them to control. So it makes sense that airline executives are collectively cheering with fuel costs spiraling downward -- and the airlines will take billions more cash to their bottom line because of it.
Some investors would jump on the gravy train and invest in the suddenly more profitable airlines, but I think a safer play exists. Let's take a step back and consider Boeing (NYSE:BA), which manufacturers a plethora of fuel-efficient commercial aircraft.
Many people believe cheap prices will be a hindrance to Boeing as airliners that once ordered fuel-efficient airplanes to save on fuel cost can instead continue to use less efficient airplanes. While that logic has some merit, I believe the opposite.
Ordering a 787 Dreamliner isn't similar to ordering a Grande Mocha from Starbucks, where you simply wheel around and get your product minutes later. An aircraft from Boeing is an order that will be delivered anywhere from seven to nine years from now. What will the price of fuel be then? Nobody knows, and airlines will continue to order fuel-efficient airplanes because of that uncertainty.
Here's the kicker, though. Not only will airlines continue to order Boeing's newest, flashiest, and most fuel-efficient flying-aluminum cans, they will also have a more lucrative cash pile -- due to saving money with cheaper fuel this year -- to spend while purchasing these airplanes. It could even convince airlines that were on the fence about investing in a younger fleet to complete the decision, which will inevitably boost Boeing's order count.
Furthermore, this is far from a risky pick based solely on cheap oil. With Boeing, you're getting a company with a strict barrier of entry, and one that practically operates in a commercial aircraft duopoly, with rival Airbus, across the globe. You're getting a company that boasts a $502 billion backlog of orders, which is enough to keep Boeing plants churning out airplanes for more than five years.
And perhaps best of all, Boeing has proven it can make the cash rain on shareholders. CEO Jim McNerney increased the company's share repurchase program authorization to $12 billion. Boeing also increased its dividend recently by 25% to $0.91 per share -- which means the dividend has increased 88% over the past two years and 192% over the past decade.
In addition to all those shareholder-friendly factors, the presence of cheap oil should ensure that Boeing's backlog, as well as its share price, should continue flying high.
Matt DiLallo: I'm one of those investors that Daniel mentioned earlier, as I don't have a problem coming aboard the now-more-profitable airline industry. That's because there's a pretty noticeable correlation between airline stocks and the price of oil, as we see on the following chart.
When oil prices rise rapidly, as happened in 2011, for example, there's downward pressure on airline stocks. On the other hand, when oil prices plunge, it can send airline stocks flying higher, as we saw over the last year. This is because, as Daniel mentioned, fuel is a big cost for airlines.
Of the group, one airline in particular stands to really benefit from sustained lower oil prices: American Airlines Group (NASDAQ:AAL). Having recently emerged from bankruptcy after acquiring US Airways, the airline's stock appears to be poised to continue its ascent if oil prices remain weak.
The main reason it stands to benefit above its peers is that American Airlines doesn't hedge any of its fuel costs, so the company will directly benefit from low oil prices this year. In fact, it sees upward of $5 billion in fuel-cost savings if oil remains around its current level -- more than double the company's entire operating income over the past year.
While some would argue that customers instead of shareholders should see some of this savings, that's not likely going to be the case. Airlines have been burned in the past by getting into price wars with one another, and to solve that problem the industry consolidated, which took out a lot of excess capacity. So, at least in the near term, most of the fuel-cost savings should fall to the bottom line and provide the fuel airline stocks need to keep flying higher.
Add it up and American Airlines Group is the best airline to fly some profits into your portfolio when oil prices are low.
Travis Hoium: One of the biggest beneficiaries of low oil prices is the consumer. The EIA predicts that the average consumer will save $550 on gasoline in 2015 from a year earlier. Many consumers are using that savings to buy bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, and that's Ford's (NYSE:F) bread and butter.
2014 sales weren't outstanding by any stretch, falling slightly to 2.48 million units in the U.S. But the start of 2015 is showing incredible growth in truck and SUV sales, fueled by gasoline falling below $2 per gallon late last year. In January, Ford said its overall sales increased 15% and retail SUV sales jumped 10%, while retail truck sales were up 23%. These are not only some of Ford's more expensive vehicles, they're also the highest-margin, so profits should be up significantly if these sales trends continue.
As sales have increased, Ford has invested in higher production, including hiring more workers. This week the company said it was hiring 1,550 workers in Missouri and Michigan to help build the new aluminum-bodied F-150. They're anticipating strong demand for the new truck, and if gasoline prices continue to hover near $2 per gallon, there will be more people trading up to trucks and SUVs.
No one knows if or when oil and gasoline prices will rise, but as long as they stay near their current levels, Ford will benefit due to higher sales of larger vehicles. In 2015, that could be a big driver of the stock.