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Energy: A brighter 2024

Key takeaways

  • Oil prices are likely to remain elevated in 2024 due to constrained supply, heightened geopolitical risk, and growing demand, which should generally support profitability among oil and gas producers.
  • We may be in the early innings of a significant investment cycle in international and offshore production, which has not yet been fully appreciated by investors.
  • Energy equipment and services companies, which provide the essential equipment and services needed to produce oil and gas, could be potential beneficiaries of this investment cycle.

While energy stocks have had a slow 2023, I believe 2024 could be bright, thanks to continued high oil prices and rising investments in energy production. Among the potential beneficiaries: oil producers and energy equipment and services companies.

Crude oil prices are likely to remain elevated in 2024—driven by tight supply, increased geopolitical risk, and strengthening global demand for energy. This could set up a positive backdrop for profitability, and potentially stock prices, in the sector. A wave of new investment in international and offshore production has also contributed to that positive outlook, and has created a particularly compelling setup for energy equipment and services companies.

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Energy stocks took a breather in 2023

After leading the market by an enormous margin in 2022, when energy was the top-performing sector, these stocks have pulled back. The sector had lost 6.7% as of mid December, compared with the nearly 20% gain for the S&P 500®.

Chart shows year-to-date price performance of the energy sector, compared with the S&P 500. As of December 8, 2023, the energy sector had lost 6.72%, compared with the 19.92% gain for the S&P.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Energy sector performance is represented by the S&P Energy Select Sector Index. Data as of December 8, 2023. Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices, a division of S&P Global.

In part, that slower performance was due simply to a shift in investor preferences—with investors favoring tech stocks and other high-growth sectors for most of 2023 (those sectors are seen as benefiting from slowing inflation and slowing interest-rate hikes). And in part it’s been due to fears of an economic slowdown, which could threaten energy demand and pressure commodity prices.

Oil prices could stay high

That said, I think the outlook for energy stocks is promising. That's in no small part due to the likelihood that relatively high oil prices might persist. For example, the price of Brent crude oil—a light crude oil that is extracted from the oilfields in the North Sea—started the year at about $77 per barrel, then hit a high of $94 in late September before settling at about $75 as of mid December. At these levels, the price of crude oil allows most oil and gas companies to be quite profitable.

Chart shows spot price history of Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate. In 2023, the prices of both types of oil have generally ranged from $70 to $90 per barrel.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Brent crude is a light, sweet, crude oil sourced from the North Sea that serves as a major global benchmark for oil prices. WTI refers to West Texas Intermediate crude, a light, sweet, crude oil sourced from certain US oilfields, that serves as a major US and global benchmark for oil prices. Data as of December 8, 2023. Source: FactSet.

Several factors at play are helping to constrain the supply outlook for oil, which should help continue to support prices. Global investment in oil production has remained low for nearly a decade. Though investment is increasing, it will take several years for most of the new supply to come online.

In the US, shale oil production may see slower growth going forward, given rising production costs and the maturity of shale-producing regions. Looking abroad, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel of leading oil-producing countries, is keeping a tight rein on supplies. The group agreed last spring to reduce output through 2024, and member nations Saudi Arabia and Russia announced that they were voluntarily cutting production by even more than what the cartel had agreed to. OPEC is likely to keep oil supplies in check as it seeks to maintain per-barrel oil prices in the $80 to $100 range—considered the sweet spot that delivers strong profitability to oil producers without hurting demand for oil. Another factor is elevated geopolitical risk, with 2 major wars currently underway that could threaten global oil supplies.

Meanwhile, global demand for oil is solid. I expect it to grow in 2024, thanks to China's ongoing economic recovery and growth in India and other developing economies. Looking out beyond 2024, economic growth in developing markets is likely to drive further increases in oil demand.

That potential combination of growing demand and constrained supply could continue to support energy prices.

What to watch: Energy equipment and services stocks

Looking across the sector, I believe energy equipment and services companies could be well positioned in 2024. These are the companies that provide the essential equipment and services to produce oil and gas, such as the rigs, crews, and technology needed to drill and complete a well. This is an industry that I believe could benefit from multiple years of growing investments needed to support rising demand for oil and gas. Further, I believe many investors may be underestimating the level of investment needed to meet the world’s growing demand for energy commodities.

The years-long trend of low investment in new oil and gas production, particularly in international and offshore markets, has already begun to reverse course. However, new production can take a long time to ramp up, and so it typically takes several years for international and offshore spending to recover. I believe the industry is still in the early innings of a significant investment cycle in international and offshore production. Corporate spending has been increasing and is likely to continue to grow.

As oil producers seek to boost investment in production, they boost spending on energy equipment and services. Moreover, oilfield services firms may have an advantage in strong pricing power—due to tight capacity in many industry subsectors. The oilfield services industry is known for its high incremental profit margins, which means that when demand and pricing are strong, earnings can potentially grow rapidly.

Fund top holdings1

Top-10 holdings of the Fidelity® Select Energy Portfolio () as of October 31, 2023:

  • 23.7% – Exxon Mobil Corp. ()
  • 5.4% – Cenovus Energy Inc. ()
  • 5.2% – Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. ()
  • 5.1% – Chevron Corp. ()
  • 4.8% – Occidental Petroleum Corp. ()
  • 4.6% – SLB ()
  • 4.3% – Marathon Petroleum Corp. ()
  • 4.2% – Halliburton Co. ()
  • 3.7% – ConocoPhillips ()
  • 3.6% – Valero Energy Corp. ()

(See the most recent fund information.)

For these reasons, Fidelity® Select Energy Portfolio () recently had a notably overweight position in energy equipment and services stocks relative to its sector benchmark. Top fund holdings in the equipment and services segment recently included Halliburton (), TechnipFMC (),2 SLB (formerly Schlumberger) (), and Oceaneering International ().3 

Outlook is bright

Energy is a competitive, capital-intensive sector that tends to rise and fall with the broader economy. In managing Fidelity® Select Energy Portfolio (), I prefer to invest in companies that can generate competitive returns on capital but trade at discounted valuations, and those that have some sort of competitive advantage, have healthy or improving balance sheets, and that take a disciplined approach to capital allocation.

There are many energy companies with these attributes in the fund and, given the sector's favorable business conditions and reasonable stock valuations, I believe the outlook for energy in 2024 is promising.

Maurice FitzMaurice
Sector Portfolio Manager
Maurice FitzMaurice is a research analyst and portfolio manager in the Equity division at Fidelity Investments.

In this role, Mr. FitzMaurice manages Fidelity Select Energy Portfolio, Fidelity Advisor Energy Fund, and VIP Energy Portfolio. In addition, he is responsible for researching companies in the energy and power sectors. He also collaborates with Fidelity's equity income portfolio managers to expand the firm's value-oriented coverage and works on the firm's portfolio management strategic objectives.

Prior to assuming his current position in January 2017, Mr. FitzMaurice served as managing director of research in Fidelity's High Income division. In this capacity, he managed a team of research analysts and research associates based in Boston and London. Previously, Mr. FitzMaurice was a research analyst in FMR Co.'s Equity division. During this time, he also managed Midcap Financials Pilot Fund, Fidelity Select Defense and Aerospace Portfolio, Fidelity Select Air Transportation Portfolio, and Fidelity Select Transportation Portfolio. Prior to that, Mr. FitzMaurice was a research analyst in the High Income division, during which time he also managed the high yield sub-portfolios of Fidelity Balanced Fund, Fidelity Advisor Balanced Fund, and VIP Balanced Fund, as well as the high yield sub-portfolio of Fidelity Total Bond Fund.

Before joining Fidelity in 1998, Mr. FitzMaurice was an investment banking analyst at Lehman Brothers. He has been in the financial industry since 1994.

Mr. FitzMaurice earned his bachelor of arts degree in economics from Cornell University and his master of business administration degree from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

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Before investing, consider the funds' investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. Contact Fidelity for a prospectus or, if available, a summary prospectus containing this information. Read it carefully. 1. Any holdings, asset allocation, diversification breakdowns or other composition data shown are as of the date indicated and are subject to change at any time. They may not be representative of the fund's current or future investments. The Top 10 holdings do not include money market instruments or futures contracts, if any. Depository receipts are normally combined with the underlying security. Some breakdowns may be intentionally limited to a particular asset class or other subset of the fund's entire portfolio, particularly in multi-asset class funds where the attributes of the equity and fixed income portions are different. Under the asset allocation section, international (or foreign) assets may be reported differently depending on how an investment option reports its holdings. Some do not report international (or foreign) holdings here, but instead report them in a "Regional Diversification" section. Some report them in this section in addition to the equity, bond and other allocation shown. Others report international (or foreign) holding as a subset of the equity and bond allocations shown. If the allocation without the foreign component equals (or rounds to) 100%, then international (or foreign) is a subset of the equity and bond percentage shown. 2. Fidelity® Select Energy Portfolio (FSENX) held a 2.77% position in this stock as of October 31, 2023. 3. Fidelity® Select Energy Portfolio (FSENX) held a 0.86% position in this stock as of October 31, 2023.

Views expressed are as of the date indicated, based on the information available at that time, and may change based on market or other conditions. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the speaker or author and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments or its affiliates. Fidelity does not assume any duty to update any of the information.

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Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Investing involves risk, including risk of loss.

Stock markets are volatile and can fluctuate significantly in response to company, industry, political, regulatory, market, or economic developments. Investing in stock involves risks, including the loss of principal.

Because of its narrow focus, sector investing tends to be more volatile than investments that diversify across many sectors and companies. Sector investing is also subject to the additional risks associated with its particular industry.

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The S&P 500® Index is a market capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stocks chosen for market size, liquidity, and industry group representation to represent US equity performance. The S&P Energy Select Sector index comprises those companies included in the S&P 500 that are classified as members of the energy sector, with capping applied to ensure diversification among companies within the index.

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