We're just a few weeks into the latest batch of earnings reports, and still far from the peak.
Every company is unique, but it's helpful to choose a few bellwether stocks that can provide early information on just what sort of challenges and opportunities will drive your investments over the next few months.
In particular, we're going to look at early returns on energy stocks. So far, the only energy companies of note that have reported are Schlumberger (SLB) and Kinder Morgan Inc. (KMI). These are both big, well-run companies with diverse interests in their respective industries, so let's mine the data for insight into today's energy markets.
Schlumberger Tramples Expectations
What can we glean from Schlumberger, the $102-billion global oil services company?
First of all, it was a good quarter. Sales beat estimates by 3.4%, earnings by 1.08%. On top of that, Schlumberger increased revenue 5% sequentially and improved margins. And the board voted to raise the dividend 13.6%.
New drilling in the Middle East and Asia drove most of the growth. Revenue in Iraq grew 60%. China posted strong growth, too, particularly in offshore drilling.
Latin American revenue also rose 11%, showing activity in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
Meanwhile, North American sales rose, but only 4%. Schlumberger points out that land drilling has declined, but heavy activity offshore in the Gulf of Mexico has more than made up for it.
Globally, the rates for drilling rigs continue to rise.
For what it's worth, Schlumberger predicts no major change in oil prices.
The takeaway here, at least from Schlumberger's perspective, is that low natural gas prices and middling oil prices have not slowed global exploration and drilling. It would seem that cheap energy is purely a U.S. phenomenon right now.
Kinder Morgan Proves Pipeline Potential
The other bellwether to report is Kinder Morgan. As an operator of North American midstream assets, namely 75,000 miles of pipeline, Kinder Morgan gives us an entirely different perspective than Schlumberger on the energy market.
Kinder Morgan's results are up virtually across the board. Natural gas liquid volume passing through pipelines was up 22%. Overall natural gas traffic rose 11%, driven primarily by demand for electricity generation. And ethanol and biofuel volume rose 11%, as well.
Kinder Morgan has over $2.7 billion in expansion projects underway, and has identified another $12 billion more of potential expansions that could contribute to the bottom line.
While Schlumberger may have shown a bit of pessimism for U.S. energy production, Kinder Morgan shows that the boom in midstream assets is as strong, or stronger, than ever. Incidentally, Kinder Morgan Energy and its master limited partnership, Kinder Morgan Partners (KMP), are probably the best and safest ways to invest in this boom.
It's still early, and there are plenty of energy companies yet to report. Next week, 11 large energy companies in the S&P 500 will report earnings. The gang is heavy on refiners, so we'll have a handle on that segment of the market soon.
Right now, though, it looks like the global chase is still on, and North America offers a very specific midstream opportunity.