The existence of a correlation between oil pricing and stock market valuations have been a point of contention among economists, academics and traders for decades. Conventional financial wisdom alludes to the presence of a definite correlation between oil and stock price. Contrarians to this idea have stated that oil and equities complement one another on a cyclical basis, if at all.
The complexities of this link have been scrutinised for years. Authorities such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bank Of International Settlements (BIS), U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the U.S. Federal Reserve (FED) have examined the topic extensively. Conclusions range from the presence of a strong correlation to no correlation whatsoever.
These results are not surprising because discrepancies in each study's duration, inputs and methodology have built subtle biases into the outcomes. As with most things in the financial arena, the truth is likely to fall somewhere in the middle.
When it comes to the relationship between oil and stock pricing, conventional wisdom states that the two have an inverse correlation. In simplest terms, the relationship is as follows:
- As oil prices rise, equities valuations are driven down
- As oil prices fall, equities valuations are driven up
The underlying assumption adopted by this view is that when oil prices rise, energy prices rise as a whole. This causes systemic inflation, increasing the sunk costs absorbed by companies during the execution of everyday business operations.
In turn, profitability is hurt. As a result, traders and investors are prompted to sell off corporate stock and drive share price down.
So, does the conventional wisdom on the subject hold true? The answer is an indecisive yes and no.
In an observational study conducted by Forbes, possible correlations between the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and crude oil pricing from 26 December 1990 to 25 January 2011 were looked at in depth. The following patterns in pricing behaviour were noticed:
- From 7/1/1997 to 16/2/1999 oil and stocks had a negative correlation of -0.84
- From 19/2/2009 to 27/4/2011 oil and stocks had a positive correlation of +0.94
- Several prolonged periods of no correlation between -0.30 and +0.30 were observed
- An aggregate positive correlation of +0.69 was present
The results of the investigation show a moderate correlation from 1991 to 2011, with periods of considerable positive and negative correlations. In effect, the exercise illustrated conventional wisdom holds true at least some of the time.
A similar examination of the subject was conducted by the Brookings Institution, led by former U.S. FED chairman Ben Bernanke. Although somewhat-volatile, a positive correlation between WTI Crude Oil pricing and the S&P 500 from June 2011 to December 2015 was observed. Essentially, as the price per barrel of WTI crude oil rose, so did the S&P 500.
Interpretations And Conclusions
Seemingly several times every year the oil/stock price analogy is revisited by academia. In the midst of a large rally or the pronounced selloff of an equities indices, energy pricing is a favourite culprit. Promoting dependency between the two asset-classes is a pastime enjoyed by industry analysts and journalists.
At least for now, a consensus has not been reached. The results of formal studies are often contradictory and depend greatly on guiding parameters. Listed below are several factors that substantially influence the outcomes of any study based on market-related data.
- Sector, indices or individual stock used as reference: In the above examples, a study of oil and the DJIA showed periods of negative correlation. Conversely, an exercise based upon the S&P 500 was used to illustrate a positive one.
- Duration of the study: The length and historical timeframes used are crucial to the eventual outcome.
- Broader economic conditions: Macro and sectoral economic performance is a crucial component to any perceived oil/stock price relationship.
Drawing definitive conclusions from studies based upon historical data analysis can be a challenge. It is important to recognise the role that pitfalls such as hindsight bias and data fitting can present to objectivity.
Proving or disproving a correlation can be a tricky business. There are many factors to account for, and often no obvious answer is present.
When it comes to the relationship between oil and stock pricing, at least a moderate correlation does exist. It is often cyclical and can be either positive or negative. The relationship is dependent upon any number of factors and can vary wildly.
If one is to engage the capital markets based on the oil/stock price link, it is crucial to keep the perspective as current and objective as possible.
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Past performance is not indicative of future results.