Is it possible that Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) is trying to find a bottom? The question may seem rhetorical, or even a stab in the dark, on the surface. On a day when crude oil fell more than 2% and went under $44 per barrel, what do you make of it when Exxon Mobil shares are up 1%?
The first thing to consider is how much Exxon has fallen. Not just over recent weeks and days, but from the peak. The second thing to consider is that when oil and gas investors have determined that oil prices have actually bottomed, then you likely will have seen a rally in shares of Exxon Mobil three or maybe even six months before oil began to recover.
If you go back to recent Exxon Mobil share trading on February 25, that was the last time the shares were above $89.00. That was also the last day the stock rallied, with the exception of last Thursday. The reality is that Exxon Mobil shares were down 10 straight trading days before a 20 cent per share price rally.
Now if you go back to last week’s one-day mini-rally, the gains seen on Monday had the shares up at $84.63, after a $0.76, or 0.9%, rally, shortly before the closing bell. This was within two cents of the high last Thursday when the stock rallied, and that would be above the lowest price of each of the past five trading sessions, if you include Monday.
So, what else is there? Could Exxon Mobil have bottomed?
A week ago came a big positive call for Exxon Mobil, even though shares slid. The stock was initiated with a Buy rating in new coverage by Goldman Sachs. This was one of the keys to last week’s 8 oil and gas stocks analysts said to buy.
Another consideration is the activity around short sellers. Sure, there is a two-week look back, more or less, when it comes to analyzing short interest. Still, Exxon Mobil saw its short interest decrease to 42.3 million shares at the last report from 43.7 million previously. This may seem small, but short interest was down in the major oil companies we track.
Last, Exxon Mobil recently gave its lower capital expenditure plans. While it is very possible that stock buybacks could be lower, CEO Rex Tillerson and his crew were pretty adamant about a higher dividend: “We remain committed to our investment discipline and maintaining a reliable and growing dividend.”
Shortly before Monday’s close Exxon shares were up 0.9% to $84.63, in a 52-week trading range of $82.68 to $104.76. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $93.20, implying upside of roughly 10% from the current price level.
So, what about that potential bottom?
While it would be wonderful to call a formal bottom, it still feels too soon to bet the farm that Exxon Mobil has put in any hard bottom. Imagine if oil goes down into the $30s. Imagine how hard it is going to be for oil companies to hit earnings estimates, or to even make accurate forecasts ahead. Also, what if stocks in general finally get that long-awaited correction? This is why many investors would start legging into a bottoming-out trade rather than piling in all at once. It could take a long time for a true bottoming out to be seen.
Investors often get crushed when they go in betting the farm on any hard bottom. After all, few people have reliable crystal balls. And the markets, well let’s just say that the markets love applying the most pain that most investors can possibly withstand.
Then again, by the time oil does find a floor and recovers, the discounting mechanism that the stock market aims for would create a situation where Exxon Mobil and the other most solid oil giants bottom out before the commodity does.