Investors have many options for getting involved with oil. These methods come with varying degrees of risk and range from direct investment in oil as a commodity, to indirect exposure in oil through the ownership of energy-related equities.
One direct method of owning oil is through the purchase of oil futures or oil futures options. Futures are highly volatile and involve a high degree of risk. Additionally, investing in futures may require the investor to do a lot of homework as well as invest a large amount of capital.
Another direct method of owning oil is through the purchase of commodity-based oil exchange-traded funds (ETFs). ETFs trade on a stock exchange and can be purchased and sold in a manner similar to stocks. For example, buying one share of the U.S. Oil Fund (USO) would give you exposure to roughly one barrel of oil.
In addition, investors can gain indirect exposure to oil through the purchase of energy-sector ETFs, like the iShares Global Energy Sector Index Fund (IXC), and to energy-sector mutual funds, like the the T. Rowe Price New Era Fund (PRNEX). These energy-specific ETFs and mutual funds invest solely in the stocks of oil and oil services companies and come with lower risk.
If you are looking for more information about investing in oil companies, Investopedia's Advisor Insights tackles the topic by answering one of our user questions.
I like baskets of companies because of acts of Gods. ie you can do all the research you want but you can't predict a political event, natural disaster or in some cases fraud. The two investments I like are USO, an ETF, that represents a basket of investments in oil or oil futures and a better "less risky" investment AMLP, which is an ETF that invests into an index of oil and gas pipelines. This ETF is one that I own for clients that pays approximately a 9% dividend, is a basket of 23 companies. These companies have been hurt due to low oil prices, but they act as a toll booth on a highway that always makes money as oil & gas passes its pipeline. In addition, this asset class has 20% upside when oil prices normalize between 60 and 80 per barrel.