Canada's energy stocks have been on an ugly slide over the past month, with the Toronto Stock Exchange's benchmark for oil and gas companies losing ground 14 times over the past 23 trading sessions as oil prices, both at home and abroad, hover around $90 (U.S.) a barrel.
The tumble continued Thursday, with the S&P/TSX capped energy index falling to an intraday low that was roughly 3 per cent below Wednesday's close. The benchmark ended the day at 284.12, down roughly half a per cent, 11 per cent lower than a month ago, and 16 per cent lower than when the slide kicked off in June. Thursday's close was the lowest since March 17.
Oil prices are driving the index's shakiness. Brent crude, the international benchmark, closed at $93.42 a barrel, but not before sliding to a 27-month low of $91.55 during the day. West Texas intermediate oil, the North American benchmark, ended at $91.01, but also made a significant intraday dive. It touched $88.18 Thursday, its lowest intraday point since April, 2013.
"People are very nervous about global growth," said John Stephenson, president of Stephenson & Co. Capital Management in Toronto. "How can you be an equity investor in the energy space when global growth appears to be slowing quite dramatically?"
Slowly, and with a backup plan, according to Rob Lauzon, Middlefield Group's managing director for Western Canada. The firm has recently opted to invest in natural gas, but Thursday's market rout – at least in the morning and early afternoon – drew him in.
"This is the first time in a while I've been nibbling on some oil stocks," Mr. Lauzon said. He believes investors should "nibble" on oil companies when crude is around $90 a barrel.
But Mr. Lauzon wants stocks with safety nets in case he is wrong. He purchased stock in Crescent Point Energy Corp. and Enerplus Corp. Thursday, noting that the pair pay dividends that will soften the blow if oil continues to plummet. Crescent Point pays shareholders 23 cents (Canadian) a share each month. Enerplus hands shareholders 9 cents month.
Crescent Point hit an intraday low of $38.11 Thursday and closed at $39.51, down about 1 per cent. This made the stock a steal considering the company announced a bought deal Sept. 2, pricing shares at $43.40 each. The company raised roughly $800-million thanks to this offering. Meanwhile, Enerplus shares were each worth $20.10 by Thursday's close, down from $23.91 a month ago.
Suncor Energy Inc. and Cenovus Corp., two of the biggest names in the Canadian energy index, ended Thursday in the black, but not before being pushed down in tandem with the price of oil. Mr. Lauzon is also fond of Vermilion Energy Inc., Torque Energy Inc. and Whitecap Resources Inc., believing they, along with their large-capitalization counterparts, will still be in good shape should oil slide to $80 (U.S.) a barrel.
Mike Tims, vice-chairman at Calgary-based Matco Investments Ltd., said the weakness presents a buying opportunity. "The values are getting better every day," he said. He likes companies that pump primarily natural gas liquids such as Tourmaline Oil Corp. and Paramount Resources Ltd.
Still, he said companies in Calgary could be forced to make tough decisions if today's weakness in oil prices becomes a long-term trend.
"You could see capital spending fall. You could see companies cutting people," he said. "But I don't think I would be willing to predict that off of such a short-term decline right now."