Need to Know: The best-performing sector in 2022 is not finished crushing it, says Citi, offering three stocks to buy


Will the equity superstars of 2022 continue to burn bright in 2023?

You can count on it, says our call of the day provided by Citigroup, though they say investors can’t expect as lofty returns.

“We see market rotation into energy equities as having further to run, even though names in our U.S. coverage already sit at all-time highs,” a team of analysts led by Alastair R Syme told clients in a fresh note. “History says energy equities usually perform well in an earnings recession, Citi’s base-case for 2023.”


That bullish view comes after energy roared back into the spotlight on Monday, providing at least some distraction from the equity market’s endless bear-bottom debates.

Hitting a level not seen since January, crude tumbled to $75.08 a barrel on rumors OPEC was mulling a production increase. A swift denial from Saudi Arabia pushed prices back near $80, where they are sitting for Tuesday.

Oil’s tumble also briefly knocked the year’s best performing energy sector, via the SPDR Energy Select Sector ETF 
to four-month lows before it recouped some losses. The ETF is still up a whopping 62% this year, beating all comers.

To be sure, the path for the commodity backing those stocks is a murky one, with crude struggling to make new highs since a summer run to over $109 a barrel.

But Citi’s Syme and the team say they can look past the fundamental oil picture, for now.

“Our view on the sector comes despite a view that commodity-price inflation, the story of 2021 and early 2022, is now largely behind us. We expect oil markets to begin to see inventory builds from next spring. Gas remains uncertain during the winter, but generally, we think the global energy system is adapting to accommodate Europe’s crisis,” said Citi.

As for Citi’s view that energy equities perform well in a recession, they admit that the highest returns usually come in the first year of the market rotation. However, Syme said outperformance will typically carry on until the earnings cycle turns. They lifted price targets on several energy names and upgraded BP


to buy.

“Without commodity price-inflation, growth and asset duration becomes a more important driver of relative equity performance, in our view,” said the analysts. Their three top picks in the energy sector are buy-rated BP


— upgraded by Citi on Tuesday — Spain’s Repsol


and ConocoPhillips

Citi backed up its BP upgrade with some advantages it sees: valuations that put it over European peers; a lack of chemicals exposure, which they see as a key headwind for global peers in 2023; and the potential to differentiate around underlying growth, driven by upstream and marketing.

Citi lifted its target price for BP to 540 pence from 440 pence a share, while ConocoPhillips’ target was lifted 21% to $160 a share. Among neutral-rated names, Chevron’s

target was lifted 16% to $180, Exxon’s

was lifted 12% to $110, Shell’s


was boosted 9% to 2360 pence and Eni’s

was lifted 16% to 14. Repsol’s targets were lifted 3% to €17..

Note, Citi’s economists do see the global economy continuing to lose steam with the U.S. tipping into recession by the third quarter of 2023 and Europe already there. The OECD also came out with its forecasts and not surprisingly, they were gloomy.

And they’ve got caveats for investors to consider when it comes to this dazzling sector. They say relative performance of energy stocks, while still positive, will start to diminish given that stocks have seen such a big run-up in 2022. Also, don’t get greedy, or “hold on too long,” said Syme and the team, who warned that when the demand-side collapse starts to really kick in, sector performance will start to suffer.

The markets


Stock futures



are tilting a bit higher as bond yields slip and the dollar

pulls back. Oil prices


are slightly higher after Monday’s tumultuous session. Gold

and silver

prices are firmer, and bitcoin

is slightly higher at $15,776.

The buzz

Best Buy

and Dollar Tree

will report results early, followed by HP

after the close. Dell

is dropping after the PC maker’s weak forecast overshadowed an earnings beat. Zoom

also delivered upbeat results, but shares are down on disappointing guidance.

Baidu shares

are rising after the Chinese internet giant delivered forecast-beating revenue. 

Lordstown Motors 

and Nikola 

are among several stocks that Goldman warns are burning through cash and may need to raise capital soon. The bank also points out that Microsoft has now overtaken Amazon as the stock with the most long hedge-fund positions.

Days after China President Xi Jinping spoke of redistributing wealth,


said it would cut executive salaries by 10% to 15% to boost benefits for lower-level employees.

A speech from Kansas City Fed President Esther George is the only economic item of note for Tuesday.

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The chart

On the ever-busy crypto beat, comes this grim market-cap chart from @lanceroberts:


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The tickers

These were the top-searched tickers on MarketWatch as of 6 a.m.:


Security name






AMC Entertainment







Bed Bath & Beyond


Meta Materials


Mullen Automotive


AMC Entertainment preferreds

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Listen to the Best New Ideas in Money podcast with MarketWatch reporter Charles Passy and economist Stephanie Kelton

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