Do low oil prices represent a buying opportunity for investors?
- July 1, 2020: Vol. 7, Number 7

Do low oil prices represent a buying opportunity for investors?

by Mike Consol

What goes down must go up, would be the inverse lyrics of the famous Blood, Sweat & Tears song. Oil interests can only hope for such a reversal of fortune as petroleum prices recently scraped the bottom of the barrel. Investors must be wondering the same, and whether now is the time to invest in oil to enjoy the ride back to paydirt.

Yes, the oil business is facing plenty of negatives. There is a growing lineup of institutional forces arrayed against it. Renewables are making startlingly rapid advances into the energy mix. Innovative startup companies are promising to restart the U.S. nuclear power industry with safer and more advanced reactors. And, yet, oil isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It still accounts for about 36 percent of all U.S. energy production, and natural gas another 28 percent.

The problem is energy was the worst-performing sector in the S&P 500 Index during four of the past six years and, most recently, global oil demand came to a standstill when the coronavirus pandemic temporarily rendered large swaths of the economy null-and-void. But with economies gradually reopening, demand and crude oil prices are starting to tick up. Indeed, many have gained considerably since the S&P 500 Energy Index hit bottom March 23. From that date through June 5 the energy index gained 85.6 percent.

“We now see more upside potential than downside risk, but buying should be selective, based on what part of the industry companies are in and how they are positioned in those industries,” Jodie Gunzberg, chief investment strategist at Graystone Consulting, told U.S. News & World Report. “To select stocks, fundamental valuations, balance sheets, management strength and how the companies are hedged to oil are all considerations.”

Rob Thummel, managing director and senior portfolio manager at Tortoise Capital, told the magazine: “Several of the energy-related stocks have traded down by a percentage well in excess of the projected decline in company cash flows.”

Not all oil industry observers are as optimistic.

The Motley Fool recently pronounced: “Any time stocks across an industry are down significantly, investors should be asking whether it’s a good time to buy. And oil industry stocks have been plunging in 2020. … However, you shouldn’t buy a stock just because it’s down: you also want to see a decent chance of a turnaround.”

The investment advice company asked four of its energy contributors: “Is this a good time to buy oil industry stocks?” Here are their topline replies.

Travis Hoium: Absolutely not. We may be starting to get an idea of when economic activity will start to pick up again and what life might look like a few months from now, but we have no idea what the oil industry will look like a week from now, much less a year from now.

Matt DiLallo: The oil market is in shambles. … There’s so much crude sloshing around these days that it’s filling storage depots to the brim. These issues have put intense pressure on oil prices, including pushing them briefly into negative territory. On the one hand, prices that low aren’t sustainable. That drives the view that they will need to recover in the future. This eventual rebound could fuel a rally in oil stocks. The problem with that thesis is that there’s so much excess oil that it will take the economy months to burn off.

Jason Hall: Yes, eventually oil demand will start to recover as the global economy starts ramping back up. Yes, oil prices will eventually start to go back up. But I expect it will take far, far longer than most people realize for oil markets to return to profitable levels for most companies.

John Bromels: If there was ever a “good” time to invest in oil, now’s not it.

Sounds like there might still be a lot of blood, sweat and tears ahead for the oil business.


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.


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