Even if crude prices are at two-year highs, $110 per barrel crude has done nothing to help most oil stock prices. Exxon Mobil Corp.'s (XOM) share price is down 5% in the past 30 days. Most other big oil stocks have done little better. Either the market does not believe oil prices will stay high, or other negative factors are at work at Wall Street looks at the sector.
The current reason for crude's increased prices rarely strays from the effects of the Syrian conflict. As chances of an attack on the country sway back and forth, the price of oil usually moves in unison. At this point, with the House of Representatives likely to vote against allowing the president to take military action, a consensus against such action by many of the world's other nations, and a voting population in the U.S. that largely disapproves of the attacks, prices should be press downward.
However, even a modest chance that the president will defy his critics begs the question whether other nations in the region will become in involved in the conflict. First among these are two nations on either side of the war in Syria -- Iran and Israel.
The calculus of oil prices is only part of what is factored into big oil stocks. Exxon may have a disadvantage against Chevron Corp. (CVX) and BP PLC (BP) in terms of exploration prospects and access to the biggest booming market -- shale. Investors who want to look out five years or more, already may have gambled on possible winners. Shares in each of the other oil giants have bested the S&P during the past month.
Exxon may be the largest oil company in the world, based on revenue, but its stock has had a very poor run. Against a 52-week high of $95.49, it trades at $87.20, relatively near its 52-week low of $84.70.
Several Wall Street firms have forecast that crude may reach $120, or as high as $150. So far, there are few takers to the proposition that the future of big oil is spectacular.