Valero Energy is the largest independent largest independent refiner in the United States. And it’s also one of the best refiners in the world, period.
But this just isn’t a good time to be a refiner and the oil market has moved in ways that negate many of the strengths that led me to buy Valero Energy for my Jubak Picks portfolio back on May 18, 2018. The shares are down 32.68% since that purchase. I’m selling them out of this portfolio today. The shares closed at $80.59 today, March 7.
I’m also selling because I see an earnings recession coming in 2019. And that dip in corporate earnings looks to be based on slowing in the global economy. Which isn’t good for a company like Valero that depends on selling oil into the U.S. domestic and global economies.
Back on January 31 Valero reported really, really good earnings. The company recorded earnings of $2.12 a share for the fourth quarter, a big $1.01 a share better than the Wall Street consensus of $1.11. Revenue for the refiner rose 8.9% to $28.73 billion versus Wall Street projections paling for $26.65 billion.
In its conference call Valero said that the Sunrise Pipeline expansion is working as expected, giving Valero’s refineries access to 100,000 barrels a day of relatively cheap sweet light crude from the Permian Basin. For the last few years Valero has exported about 700 million barrels a day–or about 13% of output. Export capacity is expected to climb to 1 million barrels a day on completion of current projects.
Those details are part of the picture of a company that has successfully expanded its capacity to refine sweet light crude after a long-term reliance on refining heavy crude from Venezuela. Thanks to rising production in the Permian from oil shale companies light sweet crude from that region sells at the low end of oil prices, which explain how Valero can beat earning expectations by almost 100% on only a 9% increase in revenue. The company’s investment in the Sunrise Pipeline works to bring more Permian oil to Valero’s refineries and the expansion of export capacity gives the company a market for turning that oil into profits. (Using natural gas from the Permian also helps Valero lower refining costs.)
But all this depends on economic growth in order to work. I’m not concerned, especially with growth in the United States although it is projected to slip in 2019 and 2020. What worries me more is slowing growth in the export market, as European and Chinese economies slow more rapidly than the U.S. economy.
In my “buys” for the earnings recession I’ve tried to look for companies with relatively lower exposure to slowing global markets. Vulcan Materials (VMC), a domestic producer of aggregates used in infrastructure construction is an example of that logic. The sheers are up 2.4% since I added them to my Jubak Picks Portfolio on February 25.
Part of playing good offense through is playing some defense too. Which is why I’m selling Valero tomorrow March 8. The shares recover nicely from the December 24 low of $68.94 on those January 31 earnings. (They closed at $87.82 on January 31.) But they’ve started to give back some of that recovery in the last six weeks. They closed at $80.59 on March 7.