How to invest in energy and the unfolding energy crisis?
Head of Equity Strategy
Summary: We are used to not think about the energy sector, but the galloping global energy crisis has illuminated our deficits in primary energy due to years of underinvestment in fossil fuels and renewable energy sources inability to scale fast enough with the green transformation and electrification of our economy. It seems more likely now that the non-renewable and the renewable energy sector will both provide attractive returns as we will need both to overcome our short-term energy crisis and long-term aspirations of a greener energy future.
The energy crisis keeps getting worse
Electricity prices in Europe are nine times higher than the historical average since 2007 as lack of investments and cutting the ties to Russia’s energy supplies are severely constraining available energy in society. Since before the pandemic we have written many equity notes on the green transformation which involves building out renewable energy sources and electrifying everything in the economy to reduce the carbon emissions involved with our current living standard. Switching a large part of the transportation sector to electricity or green fuels, switching the heating source from natural gas to renewable energy through electrification (air-to-water heat pumps) etc. is very difficult as our rising wealth (measured by GDP) is finely mapped to carbon emissions over the past 300 years. We described this in our note The inconvenient truth on energy and GDP. Decoupling our wealth generating function from that of carbon emissions is probably the greatest task humans has ever set out to do.
There is not ‘one solution’ that fixes our energy crisis
As BP’s 2022 Statistical Review of World Energy pictures primary energy demand in 2021 eclipsed 2019 suggesting the world’s demand for energy is now higher than before the pandemic and the usage of fossil fuels (82%) is only slightly down compared to five years ago (85%). We very much still live in a fossil fuel based economy. Things will change over time and the share of fossil fuels will likely decline, but the idea that the world can do the green transformation by electrifying everything based on renewable energy sources is naïve. Investors should also remember that the change in primary energy demand is mostly driven by the non-OECD countries. Renewable energy does not scale fast enough for a complete transition due to the speed on electrification and recently the CEOs of Orsted and Vestas complained about bureaucracy related to get new offshore wind power projects approved.
The recent Climate & Tax Bill is acknowledging that we will need oil and gas for longer than expected just three years ago and thus our current energy crisis will allow both renewable energy and fossil fuel energy to be good investments in parallel. Renewable energy is the third best theme basket this year while the commodities basket (which includes oil & gas and mining companies) is the best performer.
Our view of the future of energy is that there is no ‘one solution’ to our energy problem. We must move to a mindset of energy diversification. We will need many different sources of energy and never rely too much on one source. Germany’s reliance on natural gas for its economic model has proved fragile. Even France’s concentrated bet on nuclear power has proved to be fragile due to corrosion and now too hot rivers. The world must invest in all types of energy and thus our view is that investors mut get broad exposure to energy going forward.
The non-renewable energy sector at a glance
In this equity note we will focus on the non-renewable energy because this is the part of the energy sector which has changed the most relative to market pricing and expectations and where there is more room for valuations changing. Despite high oil and gas prices the energy sector is still relatively cheap as we described already back in May in our note Global energy stocks are the cheapest in 27 years where we measured valuation on the free cash flow yield. The high oil and gas prices have also led to record profits for refiners and recently the highest quarterly profit ever recorded in the global energy sector which we described in our note Earnings hit new all-time high as inflation lifts all boats.
The global energy sector (defined by GICS and being the non-renewable energy sector) is still cheap relative to the global equity market with the 12-month EV/EBITDA being two standard deviations below the average valuation spread since 2005. In terms of total return the global energy sector has delivered a higher return than the global equity market since 1995 (see chart). It is also worth noting that measured on the 12-month forward EV/EBITDA the renewable energy sector has twice the valuation level compared to the non-renewable energy sector reflecting the different in expectations for the future priced in the market.
As we described in our Q1 Outlook the current dividend yield and expected dividend growth suggest that the global energy sector has an expected long-term return of 10% annualised subject of course to a large degree of uncertainty related to equity valuation compression in the industry or lower dividend growth in the future than expected today.
The easiest way to invest in the energy sector is through ETFs tracking the sector and most investors should do that. A different approach is investing in specific parts of the non-renewable energy sector. The tables below show the top five company on market value in each of the GICS industries in the GICS energy sector. As the five-year total returns in USD column show, the industries related only to drilling and providing equipment for drilling activities have done the worst because the decline in capital expenditures since 2015 has dried up activity for this industry. The integrated oil and gas majors have done better due to refining and trading businesses. Over the past five years, the best performing industries in the energy sector have been refining and marketing due to the crack spreads (the difference between crude oil and refined products) have expanded during the pandemic. The global coal industry has also done very well which in terms of climate change and reducing carbon emissions is a sad observation but we should be aware of that the primary fuel source for power generation globally is still coal.
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