Energy Sector Rating: Marketperform

Energy sector overview

Apparent discipline among oil producers appears to have helped oil prices stabilize, although the energy sector has continued to struggle. While lackluster global growth and fuel efficiency improvements have dampened oil demand in recent years, it's possible that rising U.S. and global economic growth and potential geopolitical uncertainty eventually could lead to higher oil prices.

Market outlook for the energy sector

The energy sector hasn’t kept up with the price rise of oil over the past year—a break from historical precedent and one that isn’t likely to last, in our view. This is part of the reason why we have kept a market weighting on the group—it can be fairly volatile and change direction pretty quickly. The International Energy Agency also recently stated that U.S. shale production is growing even faster than it did during the time period when oil was trading at over $100/barrel, noting that shale producers “cut costs dramatically” during the downtrend in oil prices. This illustrates why we’re still concerned that the discipline shown on the supply side both with OPEC and here in the U.S. won’t last as companies and countries chase profits.

We admit to being more cautious than others with regard to the energy sector, but are warming to the idea of energy beginning to outperform. According the NDR. a similar divergence between oil and the sector occurred in 2002, which was followed by energy outperformance in 2003 as the sector caught up with the price of oil. Despite our caution, there remain bullish developments and should discipline among producers continue to hold—both domestically and globally, we would consider upgrading the group. To be sure, global growth has improved, with recent Markit PMI readings rising, which could help to support oil demand growth. But at this point we don’t think growth will rise to the point of producing a spike in the need for oil, keeping us in the marketperform camp—for now.

It is often said that the cure for high energy prices is high energy prices. The opposite can also be true: low energy prices can stimulate demand—resulting in potentially higher prices. Overall, we believe the factors outlined above support a rating of marketperform.

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.
  • Accommodative monetary policy: Central banks in the developed world generally appear to have an easing bias, which could help the more cyclical sectors such as energy.
  • Rising geopolitical tensions: These tensions, if raised, could result in higher oil prices.

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.

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Important Disclosures

Schwab Sector Views do not represent a personalized recommendation of a particular investment strategy to you. You should not buy or sell an investment without first considering whether it is appropriate for you and your portfolio. Additionally, you should review and consider any recent market news.

Performance may be affected by risks associated with non-diversification, including investments in specific sectors. Each individual investor should consider these risks carefully before investing in a particular security or strategy.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market and other conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Companies within the energy sector may be significantly affected by energy prices, supply and demand for energy fuels, the success of exploration projects, government regulations and other factors.