2012 seemed as though it would be a bull market for energy ETFs as tensions with Iran and a surging U.S. economy spiked prices. However, now that tensions with Iran have cooled down and job growth has slowed in America, oil prices have retreated in recent weeks.
In fact, prices for the key commodity have retreated from their level over $113/bbl. in WTI terms down to the $103 level now. This shift downwards, along with speculation over weak demand in key markets in developed nations, has pushed many energy ETFs sharply lower in recent weeks as well (see more in the Zacks ETF Center).
A great example of this is the most popular energy ETF in the world today, the SPDR Select Sector Energy ETF (XLE). This fund, which trades more than 16 million shares a day and has assets close to $7 billion, has been a good barometer of the energy sector’s fortunes over the past few years.
XLE began the year on a strong note, adding roughly 8.3% in the first two months of the year as strong data buoyed the sector. However, over the past month, the fund has lost several percentage points and also saw losses exceeding 6% in the month of March. Thanks to this weakness, the popular energy ETF is now at breakeven this year, erasing all of the gains that the segment saw to start 2012 (see Inside The Forgotten Energy ETFs).
However, while XLE might be trending near the zero percent gain mark for the year, other energy ETFs have managed to hold on to their gains despite the broad weakness in the sector. These energy ETFs could be more resilient in the face of oil price slumps while still offering investors excellent exposure to the segment.
Unfortunately, these two all-star energy ETFs that have kept much of their gains on the year are also very volatile funds and can thus be inappropriate for investors who are worried about the general health of the economy going forward. Nevertheless, if oil continues to bounce of its near term lows, either of the following oil ETFs could make for excellent choices to ride a bull higher in 2012:
IQ Global Oil Small Cap Equity ETF (IOIL)
This energy ETF has outperformed XLE by nearly 1,400 basis points so far in 2012, focusing in on small caps in the space. This is done by tracking the IQ Global Oil Small Cap Index which targets companies across the globe engaging in any number of the oil industry’s main segments (read Three ETFs For The Energy Efficiency Boom).
Currently, the oil ETF holds just under 60 securities in its basket, putting a heavy focus on American companies. Beyond this, there is also a tilt towards exploration (35%) and refining firms (32%) from an industry perspective. Top individual holdings include Core Laboratories (CLB), and Oceaneering International (OII) which both account for more than 8% of the assets.
Unfortunately, the bid ask ratio is quite wide on this product thanks to extremely low volumes. Additionally, the expense ratio of 75 basis points might be tough to swallow for many. However, even with these added costs the product has put up a strong performance and could be a good choice for those with a high risk tolerance.
EGShares Energy GEMS ETF (OGEM)
This emerging market energy ETF has been another star performer so far this year, outperforming XLE by 1,200 basis points since the start of January. However, unlike IOIL, this fund targets large caps focusing on the Dow Jones Emerging Markets Oil & Gas Titans 30 Index as its benchmark (read Play An Oil Bull With These Three Emerging Market ETFs).
The energy ETF has a heavy focus on the BRIC countries as these four nations occupy the top four spots in the ETF, including a 35% allocation to Russia and 20% to China. Integrated firms comprise the bulk of the assets at about 60% of holdings, while exploration constitutes the next biggest segment with 23% of the total. In terms of individual holdings, Russian giant Gazprom takes the top spot while it is trailed by Brazil’s PetroBras and fellow Russian behemoth Lukoil.
Unfortunately, much like its IndexIQ counterpart, this fund suffers from high expenses and low volume. The volume is especially light here—though AUM is higher—while expenses come in at 85 basis points a year. However, while the ETF might have high overall expenses, the 2.1% yield and the strong performance despite oil’s weakness as of late could be reason enough to give this fund a closer look.
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