In September, energy stocks got a boost as investors shifted away from momentum names and toward beaten-down value stocks. Oil stocks, in particular, rose after an attack on two Saudi Arabian oil facilities that knocked out more than 5 million barrels a day of production.
But the boost from those catalysts appears to have faded, and energy has settled back into a woeful trading pattern. In the first three quarters of the year, energy stocks rose 6%, tied with health care for the worst performance in the S&P 500, which rose 21%.
In the two-day stock selloff to start October, energy stocks fell 4.85%, on average, more than any other sector. Overall, the S&P 500 fell 3% over the two days. Energy stocks were dropping again on Thursday as the stock selloff continued for a third day. The price of oil was down again, with Brent crude futures falling 1.3% to $56.77 and West Texas futures down 1.7% to $51.56.
The latest stock selloff was driven largely by fears of a recession, and energy is particularly vulnerable to global economic weakness. Already, analysts expect supply to outpace demand in 2020, and any further deterioration is likely to widen that gap.
“Oil’s recent slump is struggling to find support and could be very vulnerable if at the end of the week we also start to see weakness in the strongest part of the US economy, the labor market,” wrote Edward Moya, an analyst at currency broker Oanda. “In addition to demand adversity, American oil inventories also jumped the most since May.”
Goldman Sachs says energy is the most undervalued sector in the U.S. stock market relative to its implied earnings growth rate. But even if investors turned more toward value stocks amid an uncertain economy, it is no lock that they would buy energy names.
Energy earnings are volatile, dependent on commodity prices and the timing of large projects. S&P 500 energy companies are expected to post a 23% decline in earnings per share in 2019, before rebounding to a market-leading 31% gain in 2020, according to Goldman Sachs. That is largely driven by Exxon Mobil (XOM), whose 2019 earnings have been affected by spending on large projects in the Permian Basin and overseas.