Few sectors could match the lethargy and mediocrity offered by the energy sector in 2012. Using ETFs as the measuring the stick, the only select sector SPDR that performed worse than the Energy Select Sector SPDR (NYSE:XLE) last year was the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSE:XLU).
By the time 2012 drew to a close, XLE was up all half a percent, indicating investors could have done far better with another SPDR: The SPDR S&P 500 (NYSE:SPY). In what may be a case of last year's laggards shedding that ominous status, some energy ETFs have shown signs of life in recent weeks.
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For example, the always volatile Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSE:OIH) ended 2012 on a strong note and is up 3.2 percent in the past month. XLE has not been a slouch either, posting a gain of almost two percent over the same time.
Fortunately for investors, the roster of energy ETFs that have been quietly creeping higher in recent weeks does not begin and end with XLE. Several other funds have been getting in on the act as well and some of the following have the potential to be leaders if the energy sector rebounds in earnest this year.
First Trust Energy AlphaDEX Fund (NYSE:FXN) As is often the case with many of First Trust's AlphaDEX ETFs, investors will find that over certain time frames, FXN proves to be a better bet than a traditional market cap-weighted ETF such as XLE. FXN has been the winner over the past 30, 90 and 180 days.
FXN offers several advantages over cap-weighted U.S.-focused energy ETFs. For starters, Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) combine for just five percent of this ETF's weight. In an ETF such as XLE, those two stocks can represent 30 percent to 35 percent of the ETF's total weight. Second, FXN is highly diverse in that it offers exposure to integrated oil names, independent producers, refiners and services providers.
Finally, since FXN is not excessively weighted to large- and mega-cap names, the ETF has some sensitivity to a potential increase in energy sector mergers and acquisitions activity. At least five of FXN's 53 holdings are credible takeover targets and a case can be made for a few others.
iShares Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Index Fund (NYSE:IEO) The iShares Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Index Fund is a valid play for those looking to avoid excessive exposure to integrated oil names. Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) is the ETF's largest holding with an allocation of almost 14.5 percent, but IEO's 60 other holdings are tilted heavily toward independent exploration and production firms and refiners.
One thing to note about this ETF: Its top-five holdings Occidental, Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC), EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG), Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) and Apache (NYSE:APA) combine for 47 percent of the fund's weight. In other words, five stocks are the real drivers of IEO's performance.
That has not been a problem over the past month as IEO has gained about 3.2 percent, but IEO is not for the faint of heart. The ETF carries a beta of 1.71 against the S&P 500, according to iShares data.
EGShares Energy GEMS ETF (NYSE:OGEM) By far the smallest and least traded ETF on this list, OGEM merits consideration for the investor that is not shy about embracing state-controlled energy firms, of which there are plenty in the developing world. Many of those companies are found in Russia and China. To that end, it is not surprising that Russia and China combine for 52 percent of OGEM's country weight.
Regarding OGEM's Russia exposure, it may not be as concerning as some might think. The ETF's index already features a dividend yield of 3.3 percent. However, Russia is forcing its highly profitable, cash-rich state-controlled companies to devote larger percentages of their profits to dividends.
Of course, that move is self-serving in favor of the government, but it benefits other shareholders as well. Additionally, emerging markets energy names are inexpensive relative to their developed market counterparts. IEO carries a P/E ratio of just over 22. OGEM's is just half that. The ETF is up 3.33 percent in the past month.
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