Oil winners: Bet on stocks catering to low-income consumers

Retail running on gas?
Retail running on gas?   

Shares of retailers that cater to low-income consumers, along with airlines, will get the biggest boost over the next 12 months from the collapse in oil prices, according to a sweeping report from Morgan Stanley research.

"A 15 percent move in gasoline prices is worth $60 billion at an annual rate in consumer spending power, which is nearly 0.5 percent of disposable personal income," the report sent to clients Monday says. "Middle- and lower-income households, who direct a greater share of their income to energy, are mostly hand-to-mouth consumers, and therefore tend to spend this windfall quickly."

Children's Place, Foot Locker, Finish Line, Brown Shoe and Skullcandy will see gas price savings translate into higher sales. American Airlines and Allegiant Travel will be standouts among the airline stocks because they have no jet fuel hedges in place.

The national average gas price has fallen every day since Sept. 25 to Monday's level of $2.39 a gallon, a record 88-day losing streak, according to AAA.

As gas prices fall, shares in consumer discretionary stocks are starting to lift off. The Consumer Discretionary SPDR ETF is up 1.8 percent over the last month, topping a 1 percent move higher in the S&P 500 Index over the same period. Meanwhile, the Energy SPDR ETF is off a whopping 7 percent.

Morgan Stanley's strategists went to an "overweight" rating in early fall, just before the sector started to break out. The firm now sees the sector as its "biggest overweight" heading into 2015.

"The sharp downdraft in the oil price is one of the most prominent investor debates entering 2015. This report stakes out our position on that debate," says the 75-page analysis, which highlights 120 stocks and more than 30 industries that are affected by the drop in energy prices.

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The NYSE Arca Airline Index is up 7 percent in the last month and 18 percent for the fourth quarter.

"Fuel expense is a key input cost for the airlines amounting approximately to 1/3 of total operating expenses," the report said.

Along with clothing and apparel makers, Morgan Stanley analysts see increased sales for casual dining chains and quick serve restaurants. The firm's top picks are Texas Roadhouse, Chili's owner Brinker, Darden, Sonic Drive-In and Jack in the Box.

Jack in the Box "is highly exposed to California where the average consumer drives more, and thus saves more when gas prices drop," the report said.

Altria and Lorillard could see a boost in sales as consumers buy more cigarettes at gas stations and possibly trade up to more premium smoke brands with their gas savings.

Morgan Stanley's analysts got creative for their research, finding some beneficiaries to the crash in energy prices not as apparent as airlines and restaurants.

Private equity firms KKR and Apollo will benefit from being able to pick up oil assets in their energy funds for cheap. Oaktree Capital will benefit from distressed debt financing in the oil sector.

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"Near-term we think KKR is best positioned given its $3.4B of energy related 'dry powder' (3.5 percent of AuM, the largest vs.. peers) and $2B of balance sheet cash that could be deployed to generate enhanced returns for shareholders."

Capital One, with the majority of its loans in the credit card or auto area, is another interesting play on falling oil prices, the analysts said. Gas savings will lead to higher credit quality for these consumers and opportunity for more lending.

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