Wall Street Week Ahead Recession fears pose challenge to energy shares after stellar year

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New York, Jan. 28 (BNA): A potential U.S. recession and tough comparisons to a stellar 2022 are weighing on the prospects of energy stocks delivering an encore to last year’s stunning run, despite valuations that are seen as still comparatively cheap.


The S&P 500 energy sector is up 4.2% year-to-date, slightly lagging the rise for the broader index. The sector logged a 59% jump in 2022, an otherwise brutal year for stocks that saw the S&P 500 drop 19.4%, Reuters reported.


Energy bulls argue the sector’s valuations bolster the case for a third-straight year of gains, which would be the first such feat for the group since 2013. Goldman Sachs, RBC Capital Markets and UBS Global Wealth Management are among the Wall Street firms recommending energy stocks.


Despite last year's run, the sector trades at a 10 times forward price-to-earnings ratio, compared to 17 times for the broad market, and many of its stocks offer robust dividend yields.


The potential returns for shareholders were highlighted this week when Chevron shares rose almost 5% after announcing plans to buy $75 billion worth of its stock.


Some investors worry, however, that energy companies may find it hard to increase profits after huge jumps in 2022, especially if a widely expected U.S. economic downturn hits commodity prices.


"The group appears to be holding up well, but there is some trepidation due to the fact that investors are concerned about an economic slowdown and what that will do to demand," said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth.


He said he is slightly overweight the energy sector, including shares of Chevron and Pioneer Natural Resources.


Economists and analysts in a Reuters survey forecast U.S. crude would average $84.84 per barrel in 2023, compared to an average price of $94.33 last year, citing expectations of global economic weakness. U.S. crude prices recently stood at around $80 per barrel.


At the same time, many investors beefed up their holdings of energy stocks in 2022 after years of avoiding the sector, which had often underperformed the broader market amid concerns such as poor capital allocation by companies and uncertainties over the future of fossil fuel.


 The sector’s weight in the S&P 500 roughly doubled last year to 5.2%.


However, that dynamic may be petering out, said Aaron Dunn, co-head of the value equity team at Eaton Vance.


"People have come back to energy in a big way," he said. "We had that tailwind the last couple of years, which was that everyone was under-invested in energy. I don’t think that’s the case anymore."