Union Pacific, Transportation Stocks Cashing In on Lower Oil Prices Heading into 2015

Lower Oil Prices Heading into 2015Transportation stocks are still pushing higher, and the broader market won’t turn until this particular sector does first. The Dow Jones Transportation Average just broke 9,200 for another new record-high, and component companies have added price momentum due to lower oil prices.

Alaska Air Group, Inc. (ALK) leapt by more than 10 points after reporting solid third-quarter numbers and strong operational momentum in the month of October.

Union Pacific Corporation (UNP), one of my favorite stocks and a leading indicator for the broader stock market, is now more than $123.00 a share. It was below $100.00 in the early October sell-off.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. (JBHT) is pushing a new record-high, too, and so are FedEx Corporation (FDX) and Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL).

Transportation stocks are a very important indicator for the rest of the stock market. Following the Dow Jones Transportation Average is very worthwhile. In fact, you can disregard much of the market’s noise and just follow this index for the broader market’s direction.

The lower price of oil is a big added bonus for this sector. It’s going to pad fourth-quarter earnings tremendously, which bodes well for the broader market going into 2015.

Often, in a new business cycle, transportation stocks lead the rest of the market both in terms of underlying operational growth and share price performance. They’ve been trending consistently higher since the market breakout at the beginning of 2013 and these stocks have solid price momentum near-term.

The upward price momentum does make it difficult, however, to consider these companies currently. These stocks are fully valued, and in the absence of a market correction, they’re not good buys.

As mentioned, I always follow Union Pacific and railroad stocks, in general, both for their operational results and their share price performance. I view Union Pacific kind of like a canary in the coalmine for the U.S. economy and the broader market.

Over the last number of quarters, the company’s operational performance has been excellent and management’s expectations for the fourth quarter this year and fiscal 2015 remain solid. (See “Railroad Stocks the Best Market Predictor for Investors?”)

Part of the exceptional business conditions for many railroad companies has been agriculture shipments, of which there was a backlog. As well, most railroads are shipping more oil and even more fracturing sand.

Union Pacific reports its fourth-quarter and year-end results on January 22, 2015. This news, along with the company’s year-end SEC filings, will be worthwhile.

No doubt, a great deal of the price momentum among transportation stocks has to do with the extreme monetary stimulus. Transitioning out of an extremely accommodative monetary environment is going to be difficult, but it has been widely broadcasted that higher interest rates will only occur when there’s sustainable economic growth.

In any case, underlying business conditions for many transportation companies are solid. Combined with lower costs for jet fuel and diesel, conditions bode well for this sector going into the first half of 2015.