Oil was down to $102.90 (U.S.) a barrel on Wednesday but Canadian energy stocks were up 2.6 per cent, feeding questions about what on earth investors were thinking about. However, it's not such an unusual divergence: Since the peak of oil's remarkable run, on July 3, oil prices have tumbled 29 per cent, but energy indexes in Canada and the United States have held up a little better, falling about 21 per cent each.
To be sure, part of the longer-term outperformance by the indexes is due to the fact that they contain more than just oil producers. There are natural gas producers in there, as well as uranium exploration companies, pipeline companies and oil services firms. In addition, some stocks have spiked - such as First Calgary Petroleums Ltd. - on takeover offers.
Still, it is interesting that some of the big names in the sector are holding up better than the underlying commodity. In the United States, Exxon Mobil Corp. has fallen 14.4 per cent since oil descended from its peak - bad, yes, but about half the decline of oil. Similarly Chevron Corp. has fallen just 17 per cent.
In Canada, EnCana Corp. has tracked the price of oil fairly closely, with the stock down 25.5 per cent since July 3. Suncor Energy Inc. and Talisman Energy Inc. have done better, falling 20.7 per cent and 21.2 per cent, respectively.
This actually makes some sense when you consider that energy stocks lagged the price of oil during its remarkably sharp climb during the first half of the year. From the beginning of January until its peak, oil rose 51.4 per cent - but the S&P/TSX energy index rose just 20.9 per cent during this period and the S&P 500 energy index trudged along with a mere 5.5 per cent rise.
Energy investors and energy equity investors, it seems, are different breeds.