The Pelican State Portfolio, a group of Louisiana stocks tracked by The Advocate, continued to be outperformed by the stock market during the first three months of 2015, as low crude oil prices continued to take a toll on businesses in the energy industry.
The 24 stocks in the Pelican State Portfolio — all public companies based in Louisiana — were down 6.9 percent for the first quarter. In contrast, the S&P 500, which tracks 500 large companies, was up nearly 1 percent for the quarter.
The Russell 2000, which follows small-cap stocks that have an average market capitalization of $1.3 billion, was up by 0.3 percent during the quarter. The Dow Jones industrial average, an index of 30 top businesses, increased by 4.3 percent during the three-month period.
For the 12-month period ending March 31, the Pelican State Portfolio was down 4.6 percent. In contrast, the Dow Jones industrial average was up by 8.2 percent, the Russell 2000 increased by nearly 10.6 percent and the S&P was 12.7 percent higher.
“It was a horrible quarter,” said Peter Ricchiuti, a finance professor at Tulane University, who tracks regional stocks across the South through the university’s Burkenroad Reports. Sixteen of the stocks in the Pelican State Portfolio posted losses for the quarter.
What dragged Louisiana stocks down were low oil prices. On March 31, 2014, crude oil was trading at $101.57 a barrel. In a year, the price had plunged to $48.66 a barrel.
The low oil prices hit a host of industries. Acadiana-headquartered banks saw their stock prices drop over concerns of how much of their loan portfolio is devoted to energy companies. Entergy and Baton Rouge-based H&E Equipment were hurt by the slowdown in petrochemical construction, a result of the narrowing price spread between crude oil and natural gas.
“The market is not cheap,” Ricchiuti said. “Any kind of negative news hurts us.”
But those falling prices hit oil and gas service companies the hardest. Tidewater, of New Orleans, which provides service vessels to offshore rigs, saw the value of its stock go down by 40 percent. Hornbeck Offshore, of Covington, an offshore transportation company, saw the value of its stock drop by nearly 25 percent during the first quarter. Both of those companies saw the value of their stock plunge by more than 55 percent from the end of the first quarter of 2014.
“It’s always been tough for the oil service industries because it’s so cyclical,” Ricchiuti said. “The service companies have got to keep people employed, because when the industry bounces back they’re going to need them overnight.”
Companies that make rigs for the offshore industry and oil and gas production firms have fared a little better. Deepwater activity in the Gulf of Mexico hasn’t slowed down because of the time and money it takes to find oil under thousands of feet of water and set up the structures to pump it out. And Ricchiuti said production companies have valuable assets in the ample supplies of oil and gas they have in the ground. It’s just that those assets are worth less than they were several months ago.
The issue for Louisiana companies and the state’s economy is how long oil prices remain low, Ricchiuti said. “One thing that is not happening is that when prices fall, production slows down,” he said. “But production keeps going up because it’s from shale deposits.”
Another thing that hasn’t happened, despite low oil and gas stock prices, is that there hasn’t been a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the energy sector. Ricchiuti said that’s surprising because energy companies and private equity groups have a lot of money from the flush stock market of recent years, and the stock prices for some firms are so low.
“People are kind of scared,” he said.
There were a few bright spots. Baton Rouge-based Investar Bank saw its stock price rise by 23.5 percent during the quarter. The bank launched its initial public offering in July.
“People understand they bank in a strong region, and they’re not tied to a bundle of energy loans,” Ricchiuti said.
Globalstar also saw its share price increase by more than 20 percent during the quarter. The Covington-based satellite phone company recently completed a pilot test that was the final major hurdle toward getting the Federal Communications Commission to grant permission for it to open up its spectrum to allow for wireless Internet service in American cities. “The pilot test reportedly did very well,” Ricchiuti said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate.