Energy Business

Plunging Oil Prices Won't Help Consumers, Hurt Alternative and Renewable Energy Too

Jon C. Ogg

If the wider spread of COVID-19 wasn’t bad enough for the public and the markets, now an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia is pouring salt on the wounds. Oil already had been weak in 2020, but benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude was last seen down more than 20% at $32.05 in Monday’s trading session. Some economists tout that lower oil prices translate to a pay raise for all consumers and transportation companies that buy gasoline. There is also an ever-stronger push to move beyond fossil fuels for cars and energy. This may turn into a bloodbath for all sides.

Saudi Arabia responded to Russia after it refused to endorse new production cuts for the OPEC+ group. Russia refused to extend the existing oil cuts that end in three weeks, along with continued oil demand destruction due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Saudi response was to slash its official selling prices and to ramp up output. The one group that this will destroy throughout the world, particularly the newer and more leveraged marginal shale players, is in the exploration and production (E&P) companies.

Again, this also bodes well for electric vehicle manufacturers and companies looking to help expand alternative energy and renewable energy. To prove the point, Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) was last indicated down about $87.00 (12.3%) at $616.50 on Monday morning. NIO Ltd. (NYSE: NIO), often touted as “the Tesla of China,” was down 4.5% at $3.55 on Friday and was indicated down 14% at $3.04 on Monday. Think about the premium that a consumer pays for an electric vehicle even in 2020. Now couple the notion that gasoline (per GasBuddy) is currently down well under $2.00 per gallon in many cities and states, compared with nearly $3.00 per gallon at the start of 2019. That makes the lifetime ownership comparison that much less unattractive to pay up for the electric vehicles.

First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) closed down 4.6% at $43.37 on Friday, but it was indicated down 8.1% at $39.86 on Monday. SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR) was down over 8.5% at $8.55 on Friday, but it was last seen down 8% more at $7.86 on Monday morning. Solar energy may be tied to natural gas (or the nasty coal) more than oil, but natural gas has gone in the gutter as well with prices already expected to extremely low in 2020.

Renewable Energy Group Inc. (NASDAQ: REGI) is a leader in biofuels. After closing down less than 1% at $26.99 on Friday, it was indicated down 18% at $22.05 on Monday.

One reason to consider rallying behind the calls that “lower oil acts as a pay raise for consumers” is that the oil and gas industry supports millions of jobs, and these jobs come at far higher average pay than basic retail, hospitality and foodservices jobs. Lower gas prices may help many consumers have more for spending, but the fallout from the oil and gas sector can be big enough that it has a negative net effect when you add in the parts of the country that are tied to strong energy. Estimates offered in the past indicated that oil and gas jobs also had about 2.5 times the economic footprint for average jobs on average. That last statistic may no longer be the case, but it’s still much higher than the average pay and economic footprint, and that means less money spent at retail, on cars, in foodservices and so on.

Goldman Sachs even warned that under the worst cases, oil could drop down close to $20.00 per barrel. Needless to say, that would be a lose-lose situation for even the strongest of oil giants. A report from Dow Jones also noted that DNB Bank in Norway has warned that this will turn into an outright price war.

Shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) were trading down over 15% at $40.20 on Monday morning, and that is after a 4.8% drop to $47.69 on Friday. Exxon would now have an indicated dividend yield of 8.65%. Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) was down 15% at $81.05 on Monday morning, after falling 1.9% to $95.32 on Friday.