This is a big week for macro-oriented investors and traders. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release the statement relating to July's monetary policy meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). No one is expecting the FOMC to raise rates this month, so analysts and pundits will likely be scrutinizing the language for hints on whether the first hike will occur at September's meeting (which appears to be the consensus forecast) or beyond.
The Fed, which has repeatedly emphasized that its decision-making on whether and when to hike is data-dependent, will itself be scrutinizing Thursday's release of second-quarter GDP estimates (the consensus estimate has the economy expanding at 2.9% relative to the first quarter). Policymakers will be looking for evidence that the economy is continuing to gather momentum.
Finally, in a reminder that there are often limits to what policymakers can achieve when they try to buck market forces, Chinese stocks fell 8.5% on Monday, the second-largest one-day drop on record (the largest occurred in 2007). Today's rout is a setback for Chinese authorities, which had managed to engineer a rally off the market's July 8 bottom through extraordinary measures, including barring large shareholders from selling their stakes.
The "China syndrome" is surely weighing on U.S. stocks today, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) and the broader S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) down 0.77% and 0.53%, respectively, at 1 p.m. EDT. The Nasdaq Composite was down 0.74%.
Even as it retrenches, the energy sector looks appealing
The Financial Times, citing a report from consultants Wood Mackenzie, reported yesterday that major energy companies have curtailed investments in new projects to the tune of $200 billion in an effort to protect their dividends, just as oil reached a four-month low on Monday. In total, 46 large oil and gas projects have been deferred, amounting to reserves of 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent -- more than the proven reserves of Mexico.
The news comes at the start of a critical week for investors in energy shares, with five supermajors reporting quarterly results this week: BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP), Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX), ExxonMobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM), Royal Dutch Shell plc (ADR) (NYSE:RDS-A), and Total SA (ADR) (NYSE:TOT).
Wood Mackenzie's survey confirms an earlier estimate from consultancy Ernst and Young, released in June, according to which energy companies have been cancelled or delayed $200 billion in deepwater drilling projects and complex gas facilities.
Royal Dutch Shell is involved in two of the largest projects in this group: its joint-venture with PetroChina on the Arrow liquefied natural gas (LNG) protect and BG Group's Prince Rupert LNG development in Canada. In April, Shell announced it would acquire BG Group plc in a deal then valued at 47 billion pounds ($73 billion) -- the fourth-largest energy deal in at least two decades.
Despite the deluge of gloomy headlines pertaining to the energy sector (and, indeed, the broader commodities complex) -- or because of it, undoubtedly -- smart money has been placing bets there or setting aside funds for this purpose. In April, Bloomberg reported that investment groups including the Blackstone Group and Carlyle had raised $100 billion dedicated to energy investments.
Nevertheless, it pays to be selective. Blackstone president Tony James warned in an April 16 conference call that oil companies have been "able to go out and raise a lot of debt and, in some cases, equity, publicly at values that we wouldn't touch."
In a broad market that appears fully valued, I think the energy sector is one area likely to contain opportunities to invest with a margin of safety. However, investors will likely need to be patient: Those who put money in the five supermajors mentioned above at the end of December 2008 (the last time the oil market hit a major bottom) are still trailing the S&P 500 by a wide margin -- even when one includes those rich oil share dividends.