The Energy sector emerged as the top performer for January, a nice respite after a terrible 2020—but not exactly a good omen. Unlike in horse racing—where the concept of “early speed” has significant predictive power—the early leader in the sector-performance sweepstakes hasn’t reliably followed through in the last 30 years.
Fundamentally, we don’t have much new to say on the disaster that Energy-sector equities have become. Mostly, we want to illustrate the danger of assuming that the stocks of commodity producers will necessarily follow the path of their underlying commodities.
For the fifth consecutive month, the top-three rated sectors are Health Care, Consumer Discretionary, and Info Tech. The newly launched Communication Services sector (which replaces Telecom Services) debuts with a strong ranking in fourth place. Rounding out the bottom end of the rankings are Utilities, Materials, and Real Estate.
Although Discretionary stocks broadly underperformed during October’s market decline, prominent amongst the very top industry group performers was a rather unexpected genre of industries—brick & mortar retail. Not only did this cohort hold up during October’s tumult, but many of the underlying stocks have been posting strong returns all year.
Health Care remains the highest-rated sector followed by Info Tech and Consumer Discretionary. These sectors have ranked among the top three since June. At the low end of the rankings are Utilities, Telecom Services, and Materials, all of which have been among the bottom three positions for three consecutive months.
We revisit commentary we published in 2015 regarding the late-2014 oil price crash and review why, at that time, we believed oil prices could stay at depressed levels for a longer period than most expected. Additionally, we advise avoiding two Energy sector segments: companies with high balance-sheet risk, and Energy Royalty Trusts.