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Energy Sector Rating: Marketperform


Brad Sorensen

CFA, Managing Director of Market & Sector Analysis, Schwab Center for Financial Research

Brad Sorensen heads market and sector analysis for the Schwab Center for Financial Research and writes for several Schwab publications. He is a member of Schwab's Investment Strategy Council.

Before joining Schwab in 2004, he was a senior analyst at AMG Guaranty Trust, where he designed portfolio strategies for high-net-worth individuals. Sorensen graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor's degree in finance and master's degrees in business administration and finance. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst charterholder.

October 25, 2018
Submitted by satya.billa on October 25, 2018
Energy Sector

Energy sector overview

There are myriad shifting winds affecting the energy sector, making a firm call in either direction difficult. Geopolitical events are unpredictable and often affect the energy sector, which should be taken into account along with the fundamentals of the group.

Market outlook for the energy sector

The energy sector, and the price of oil, have been affected by myriad factors over the past several months, leading us to continue to keep a marketperform rating on the sector, as making a firm call in either direction doesn’t seem prudent at this point. The energy sector has struggled over the past few months, as well as over the last 12 months, with investors apparently skeptical that pronouncements by OPEC that it may cut oil production further (Wall Street Journal) will actually make a major dent in the supply/demand dynamics. Trade disputes and global growth concerns, with the Chinese Markit PMI moving into contraction territory, appear to also be weighing on the group. Additionally, recent increased tensions with Iran have done little so far to boost the price of oil.

Taking a little larger view, the energy sector’s performance has been volatile, with it being the most volatile sector from 2012-2017 according to the Chicago Board Options Exchange (a record we believe continues to hold), as current investors attempt to balance the U.S. demand that allies stop using Iranian oil—with a recent tightening of sanctions exacerbating concerns—Venezuelan production continuing to decline, trade friction, and both inventory and supply concerns.

We admit to being more cautious than others regarding making a call one way or the other on the energy sector, due largely to the potential risks of sharp moves—much as we’ve seen in the past. However, we aren’t opposed to those with higher risk tolerances looking at some of the higher-quality companies in energy when the selling gets to extreme points, such as we believe we’re seeing now, understanding that reversals are quite possible, such as we’ve seen over the past year. Due to this possibility, and the numerous crosswinds described above, however, we remain at marketperform for the group, with the understanding that patience is going to be required.

Factors that may affect the energy sector

Positive factors for the energy sector include:

  • Potential increase in energy demand: The U.S. economy is growing, and developing nations will likely need more energy as they improve their infrastructure and modernize their economies.
  • Rising geopolitical tensions: These tensions, if raised, could result in higher oil prices.
  • Supply concerns. The recent ending of waivers from the U.S. government on countries using Iranian oil could exacerbate supply concerns. 

Negative factors for the energy sector include:

  • New supply: Energy supply has increased dramatically with a renewed commitment to exploration and technological improvements.
  • Increased conservation: Conservation efforts and new technology could affect the growth in demand for energy products.
  • Energy use restrictions: Severe pollution problems in China could result in mandates to cut energy use


Clients can see our top-rated stocks in the energy sector.

Want to learn more about a specific sector?  Click on a link below for more information or visit Schwab Sector Views to see how they compare.

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