By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As if plummeting oil prices were not giving energy companies enough to worry about in 2015, Wall Street has turned against the sector, with stock analysts slashing earnings estimates.
Despite a 23 percent drop in the S&P 1500 energy sector (.SPCOME) since the end of June 2014, stock prices still may not account for the drastically lowered forecasts for the sector's earnings, particularly if oil prices continue to slide.
Of the 10 S&P 1500 (.SPSUP) sectors, Thomson Reuters StarMine data ranks energy as having the worst analyst sentiment, using a model that lists equities by aggregating metrics that include changes in estimates for company earnings-per-share and revenue.
On Tuesday, energy was dead last, with its components averaging a ranking of 14 out of 100, down sharply from 26 a day earlier. One component, Chevron Corp (CVX.N), the No. 2 U.S. energy company, had a 1 in the Analyst Revision Score, meaning analysts have been more furiously lowering estimates for Chevron than for 99 percent of companies.
EPS estimates for Chevron's fourth quarter have dropped dramatically in the last month. Six different analysts have lowered earnings expectations by an average of 14.3 percent in that time, during which the stock price has actually risen by about 1 percent.
Six of the largest 10 energy companies, accounting for 33 percent of the sector's market capitalization, have a ranking of 9 or less in StarMine's Analyst Revision Score.
The outlook has continued to worsen as crude futures prices kept sliding to new 5-1/2 year lows. U.S. crude oil recently fell below $50 a barrel after trading above $100 for the most part between February and July of last year. [O/R]
"We believe it is more likely that oil goes to $20 before it goes to $80, and we think that oil prices are likely to remain low for a long time," Brian Reynolds, chief market strategist at Rosenblatt Securities in New York, wrote on Tuesday.
Marathon Oil (MRO.N), Hollyfrontier (HFC.N) and QEP Resources (QEP.N) are among the other handful of energy companies with a 1 Analyst Revision Score.
On Tuesday, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch cut its rating on Chesapeake Energy (CHK.N) and Laredo Petroleum (LPI.N) to "underperform" and EOG Resources (EOG.N), the seventh-largest energy company on the S&P 1500, was downgraded to neutral.
Expected earnings growth for the S&P 500 energy sector's (.SPNY) in the fourth quarter was at -19.8 percent, according to Thomson Reuters IBES data, down from a 6.4 percent growth expectation on October 1. The first quarter looks even worse - an expected decline of 32.2 percent.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by David Gregorio)