Energy Stocks Mixed Up on Transactions, China (PXP, BP, RDS-A, RDS-B, RIG, ANR, BTU, KOL)

Energy stocks today exhibit all the signs of a market reacting to news that is difficult to categorize easily. First there is the $6 billion in acquisitions announced this morning by Plains Exploration & Production Co. (NYSE: PXP) of Gulf of Mexico assets from BP plc (NYSE: BP) and Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE: RDS-A) (NYSE: RDS-B). That deal has sent Plains shares down more than 8.5% and BP’s shares up 0.5%.

Then offshore driller Transocean announced the sale of $1.05 billion in shallow-water rigs, sending that firm’s stock down 2%. Unlike BP, which has said that it would shed some $38 billion in assets, Transocean’s sale looks like an attempt to build a war chest to provide against claims related to the Macondo well disaster and leaks last year in the waters offshore of Brazil.

On top of that, there was plenty of weak economic data from China over the weekend, including a steep 12.5% year-over-year drop in crude imports. As the country’s economy cools, demand for energy has also cooled.

At least demand for crude. Last week’s injection of RMB1 trillion (about $158 billion) into China’s construction industry had pumped up enthusiasm for coal. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE: ANR) is up about 6% this morning and Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU) is up nearly 2.5% as investors see an upside to U.S. coal exports to China. Alpha’s shares are up 40% since last Wednesday, so the questions are how long can this go on and how high can the price go.

In the great scheme of things, $158 billion is not an awful lot of money, but if the Chinese government follows that with additional easing and other injections to raise the country’s GDP, there could be a bigger boost in store for U.S. coal miners. An analyst at UBS pointed out that the Chinese stimulus package announced last week include many projects that had already been approved but not officially announced. The timing of the announcement may have been an effort to deflect some of the bad economic news that followed over the past weekend.

The Market Vectors Coal ETF (NYSEMKT: KOL) is up 0.7% at $23.60 in a 52-week range of $21.49 to $41.79.

The United States Oil Fund (NYSEMKT: USO) is down about 0.1% at $35.84 in a 52-week range of $29.03 to $42.30.

Paul Ausick

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