Even though the majority of publicly traded Louisiana-based companies saw their stock prices go up during the first quarter, local stocks continued to perform worse than the U.S. stock market.
The 25 stocks in The Advocate’s Pelican State Portfolio, which is made up of public companies based in Louisiana, were down 1.9 percent for the first quarter.
In contrast, the Dow Jones industrial average, an index of 30 top businesses, increased by 3.1 percent during the three-month period ending March 31. The S&P 500, which tracks 500 large companies, was up 2.3 percent for the quarter, and the Russell 2000, which follows small-cap stocks that have an average market capitalization of $1.3 billion, increased by 0.5 percent during the quarter.
The sustained low oil prices, which have been in effect since the third quarter of 2014, have taken their toll on the Pelican State Portfolio. For the 12-month period ending March 31, the index has fallen by 15 percent. In contrast, during that same time the Dow was down 0.5 percent, the S&P fell by 0.4 percent, and the Russell 2000 dropped by 11.1 percent.
Peter Ricchiuti, a finance professor at Tulane University who tracks regional companies across the South through the university’s Burkenroad Reports, said energy stocks continued to be “awful,” even though he thought the worst had happened during the fourth quarter of 2015, with investors selling off poor-performing stocks for tax reasons.
“During the first year of the decline, a lot of investors who wanted to buy bought at what they thought was the bottom,” he said. “But now, investors don’t want to be a hero; they want to be alive.” Ricchiuti joked that one analyst told him the risk of investing in energy stocks was the same as “trying to catch falling knives.”
Some energy stocks did show improvement during the quarter. Lafayette-based PetroQuest Energy, an oil and gas production company, saw its share price rise by more than 21 percent. Despite the gain, the stock still was trading at 61 cents a share at the end of the quarter after dropping more than 74 percent over the past year.
While PetroQuest was able to get some financing during the first three months of the year, Ricchiuti notes that many investors feel the gains some energy companies are seeing are a “dead cat bounce” because current crude oil prices still don’t allow for new drilling activity.
Petroleum Helicopters, the Lafayette-based offshore service company, saw its stock go up by more than 15 percent during the quarter.
Ricchiuti said the gains that Petroleum Helicopters saw was due to the fact that the company remains busy transporting people to offshore rigs that are still in production. “They’re not like the drillers; they’ve got business to do,” he said. That separates Petroleum Helicopters from the pack of oilfield service companies and makes them a safe place for energy investors to hide money, Ricchiuti said.
Other energy companies were not so lucky. Lafayette-based Stone Energy saw its share price drop by nearly 82 percent during the quarter. The stock is now trading at below 80 cents a share, a far cry from late April 2014, when it was going for $49 a share.
“That’s really kind of a shock,” Ricchiuti said. “If the prices for oil are not significantly higher by the end of the year, there’s going to be a lot of carnage.”
The bad numbers in the portfolio aren’t telling the full story for the Louisiana economy. While low oil and natural gas prices are hurting energy stocks, they’re a blessing for the chemical companies based out of the state. Those firms are paying far less for natural gas, which is important for producing a range of chemicals and powering plants.
The chart along with this article has an incorrect location for the headquarters for First Guaranty Bancshares. First Guaranty is based in Hammond. The Advocate regrets the error.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate.