Energy market commentary

Energy market commentary: March 2020

Markets plunged in March, with energy leading the way down. Crude prices fell more than 5% due to a dual supply and demand shock. With global economies at a standstill and the world awash with oil, the market appears to be in a holding pattern.

April 3, 2020 | 2 minute read

Data as of March 31, 2020 unless otherwise noted.

Performance (total returns)

BenchmarksMarch 2020YTD
Alerian MLP Index (AMZX)-47.23%-57.19%
Alerian Midstream Energy Select Index (AMEIX)-41.48%-49.59%
ICE BofAML U.S. High Yield Energy Index (HY Energy)-33.77%-39.70%
S&P 500 Energy Index (S&P Energy)-34.80%-50.45%

Performance data quoted represents past performance and is no guarantee of future results. An investment cannot be made directly in an index.

The energy sector heads into a crisis: March 2020 will be remembered as an infamous month for the economy and financial markets. The energy sector was hit especially hard as a demand crisis driven by the COVID-19 outbreak was combined with a price war between two of the world’s three largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Against this backdrop, crude prices plunged by more than 50% to $20.48/bbl, the lowest level since 2002. Energy was the worst-performing sector in the S&P 500 during the month, declining -34.80%. The rapid decline in prices raised concerns about U.S. production volumes going forward, which caused midstream to sell off. The AMZX and AMEIX returned -47.23% and -41.48%, respectively, on the month.1 HY Energy realized its worst month on record, declining -33.77% as spreads on energy bonds breached 2,000 bps, wider than either the 2008 financial crisis or the 2015 downturn.2 The world is faced with an unprecedented oversupply of crude, and that has had draconian impacts on energy assets.

Crude crash: What comes next? Crude markets endured a nightmare month in March, with WTI declining more than 50% as world economies came to a standstill and the OPEC+ alliance fell apart. Faced with plummeting global demand, OPEC was seemingly prepared to cut production for the third time in three years to support prices, but Russia declined to participate. This set off a cascade of events that ended with Saudi Arabia slashing export prices and promising to flood markets with oil to protect market share. Saudi Arabia has not backed off this stance, promising to raise production from 9.7 MMbpd in February to more than 12 MMbpd in April.1 This excess supply has already shown up in world stockpiles, with U.S. inventories seeing their second-largest uptick in history during the last week of March. So, where does the market go from here? On the demand side, the IEA estimates that global crude demand could fall by 20% in Q2, and while activity will eventually resume, we still don’t know when or how quickly a recovery will take place.3 On the supply side, the U.S. has engaged both Russia and Saudi Arabia on backing off this price war. The Saudis in particular seem to have no interest in slashing production unless all three of the world oil powers agree to cut in unison. Oil markets appear to be in a holding pattern for now until the world gets more clarity on the full impact of the coronavirus.

Key takeaways

  • Markets plunged in March, with energy leading the way down.
  • Crude prices fell more than 5% due to a dual supply and demand shock.
  • With global economies at a standstill and the world awash with oil, the market appears to be in a holding pattern.

  • Bloomberg Finance, L.P.

  • Bloomberg Finance, L.P., ICE BofAML.

  • International Energy Agency.

Index descriptions: Alerian MLP Index is the leading gauge of energy Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) and is a float-adjusted, capitalization-weighted index, whose constituents represent approximately 85% of total float-adjusted market capitalization. Alerian Midstream Energy Select Index is a composite of North American energy infrastructure companies and is a capped, float-adjusted, capitalization-weighted index, whose constituents are engaged in midstream activities involving energy commodities. ICE BofAML U.S. High Yield Energy Index is designed to track the performance of U.S. dollar-denominated high yield rated corporate debt publicly issued in the U.S. domestic energy market. S&P 500 Energy Index comprises those companies included in the S&P 500 that are classified as members of the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) energy sector.

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This energy market commentary and any accompanying data is for informational purposes only and shall not be considered an investment recommendation or promotion of FS Investments or any FS Investments fund. The energy market commentary is subject to change at any time based on market or other conditions, and FS Investments and FS Investment Solutions, LLC disclaim any responsibility to update such energy market commentary. The energy market commentary should not be relied on as investment advice, and because investment decisions for the FS Investments funds are based on numerous factors, may not be relied on as an indication of the investment intent of any FS Investments fund. None of FS Investments, its funds, FS Investment Solutions, LLC or their respective affiliates can be held responsible for any direct or incidental loss incurred as a result of any reliance on the energy market commentary or other opinions expressed therein. Any discussion of past performance should not be used as an indicator of future results.

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