5 Tips for Energy Investors

Energy investing isn't easy, but there are plenty of ways for the individual investor to make a successful go of it. Whether you are looking for new ideas, or simply wish to gain a better handle on your current investments, here are five things to keep in mind when it comes to our energy investments.

1. Don't forget the macro
When it comes to our energy companies, there are an awful lot of things to keep track of: How many wells is your oil company drilling? What does the debt picture look like? Where are its assets, who are its joint-venture partners, and on and on.

But this industry, perhaps more so than any other, is tremendously affected by forces outside of an individual company's control. I'm not just talking about how oil stocks tank at the slightest hint of bad economic news, either. The expanding role of the national oil company and shifting world energy policy will affect energy investments in the coming years. Savvy investors tune in and adjust accordingly.

2. Don't forget the micro
Of course, let's not downplay the significance that management has on our stocks. The macro view is important, but CEOs still make or break these companies, and you need look no further than Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) for proof of this.

In fact, superior management is now more critical than ever, especially in North America. Environmental opposition and increasing regulations are turning out to be more than just a thorn in the side of fossil fuel producers. We are entering the age of accountability when it comes to our energy production.

The National Transportation Safety Board recently completed its review on the 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill in Michigan. Essentially, NTSB determined the spill was due to negligence, unpreparedness, and potentially bullying in the pipeline control center. Guess how easy it will be for Enbridge to get its Northern Gateway pipeline project approved? The spill itself may not have dinged its stock price too badly, but failure to launch a $5.5 billion pipeline will absolutely affect future earnings growth.

3. Read foreign newspapers
I enjoy TheNew York Times and TheWall Street Journal as much as the next person, but these papers are very U.S.-focused, and ultimately I find the best global energy coverage in the Financial Times. Give yourself the advantage of different vantage points. Check out Al Jazeera or BBC News, and think about how your investment fits into the world energy scene.

4. Embrace the Internet
Outside of newspapers, there are many sources available online that can enhance your understanding of the industry, and your stock's role in the energy picture. Here are three to get you started:

  • Legal blogs -- Largely used as a PR tool for attorneys, these blogs can actually be useful to investors, too. Law firms are frequently the birthplace for the legislation and regulation that guide our energy companies. Keep tabs on these developments at sites such as Energy Legal Blog, Renewable Energy Law Blog, and the e2LawBlog.

  • Consultants -- There are people out there who eat, sleep, and breathe energy. It's kind of intense; let's respect their dedication and then go take all their ideas. Whether you're checking in with Wood Mackenzie or IBM, there is a lot of information out there that you can just have. Go get it!

  • Oil company industry reports -- BP (NYSE: BP) and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) both publish world energy outlooks. Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI) tracks global rig counts, and Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB) issues a human resources benchmark survey. These reports are accessible, thorough, and greatly improve the context of our investments.

Or, if that seems too daunting, jump on Twitter and start following people in energy. Writers and industry professionals tweet relevant and interesting articles, charts, thoughts, and ideas that we are all now privy to (for better or for worse) thanks to the Internet.

5. Revisit your thesis
Energy companies are not like Coca-Cola. Perhaps there was a time when you could hold ExxonMobil for 20 years and not think about it, but those days are over. Revisit your investing thesis often, factor in the micro and the macro, and make your buy, sell, or hold decision again and again.

Foolish takeaway
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information out there about energy, but if you start with the basics and build from there, it can actually be a lot of fun. Give the five tips above a try with the company Fool analysts peg as "The Only Energy Stock You'll Ever Need."