For almost a year I’ve owned domestic shale-related oil stocks, for several reasons:
–the dire condition of the oil market, oversupplied and with inventories overflowing, had pushed prices down to what I thought were unsustainable lows
–other than crude from large parts of the Middle East, shale oil is the cheapest to bring to the surface. The big integrateds, in contrast, continue to face the consequences of their huge mistaken bet on the continuance of $100+ per barrel oil
–there was some chance that despite the sorry history of economic cartels (someone always sells more than his allotted quota) the major oil-producing countries, ex the US, would be able to hold output below the level of demand. This would allow excess inventories to be worked off, creating the possibility of rising price
–the outperformance of the IT sector had raised its S&P 500 weighting to 25%, historically a high point for a single sector. This suggested professional investors would be casting about for other places to invest new money. Oil looked like a plausible alternative.
I’d been thinking that HES and WPX, the names I chose, wouldn’t necessarily be permanent fixtures in my portfolio. But I thought I’d be safe at least until July because valuations are reasonable, news would generally be good and I was guessing that the possibility of a warm winter (bad for sales of home heating oil) would be too far in the future to become a market concern before Labor Day.
Now comes the reimposition of Iranian sanctions by the US.
Here’s the problem I see:
the US imposed unilateral sanctions like this after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. As far as oil production was concerned, they were totally ineffective. Why? Oil companies with access to Iranian crude simply redirected elsewhere supplies they had earmarked for US customers and replaced those barrels with non-Iranian output. Since neither Europe nor Asia had agreed to the embargo, and were indifferent to where the oil came from, the embargo had no effect on the oil price.
I don’t see how the current situation is different. This suggests to me that the seasonal peak for the oil price–and therefore for oil producers–could occur in the next week or so if trading algorithms get carried away, assuming it hasn’t already.