Trading Desk: Big Oil Hits A Wall

Don’t count on Big Oil to keep raising the earnings trend for the market as a whole next year . . . and if it does, the other 95% of the economy will be in pretty sad shape.

ConocoPhilips (COP), Enbridge (ENB) and Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ) all proved it yesterday. All delivered spectacular 2Q numbers to confirm what ExxonMobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) told us earlier: it’s good to be in the oil patch.

Earnings for the sector are now trending at a blistering 300% above last year’s level. Take that in a moment. It means that for every penny these companies managed to take to the bottom line a year ago, they’re earning four now.

These are huge numbers. They’re the kind of thing I usually see in a technological revolution like the dawn of computers or email. This time, it’s established companies coming back from the brink after an external shock underlined just how essential they are.

But the stocks went down yesterday because oil is back below $90 a barrel. The heat that drove the sector is cooling off as corporate and government pressure drive the world to burn a little less fuel.

I’m not worried for Big Oil. The stocks still look cheap relative to earnings, even if year-over-year growth flatlines for a little while. All they need to do is avoid active earnings deterioration.

I think they’re safe. But the rest of Wall Street will need fresh sources of investor “fuel” in order to keep the lights on once Big Oil stops contributing quite so much.

This quarter, if you factor out energy, the market as a whole saw earnings drop 4% from last year. That’s not great.

For the full year, I’m looking for the market minus energy to at best deliver 3% growth. Again, not exactly a strong buy signal . . . and it’s a best-case scenario right now.

The energy sector is contributing about 75% of all earnings growth across the S&P 500 this year. And it’s only 5% of the market.

Admittedly, the numbers should stay extremely robust with oil sticking close to $90. These scattered stocks are enough to keep the market moving forward.

But why own laggards when you can double down on the fire? And how long does this last?

We don’t have to worry about next year until the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the annualized comparisons get a lot steeper and, unless the situation there escalates, the global oil dynamic should ease one way or another.

That means February might be the end of the oil rally. A lot can happen between now and then. But right now, I’m thinking the market is going to need another source of heat by the time that date rolls around and Big Oil growth gets a whole lot harder.