If you think oil is cheap, then you might be tempted to invest in an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that tracks oil. The immediate risk you’re taking on is the fact that the supply-and-demand picture doesn’t favor oil’s sustainable rebound. Global supply has increased and demand has weakened due to slowing economic growth.
However, underlying economic conditions don’t always match stock and ETF performance. For now, let’s take a look at five ETFs that track oil in one way or another. (For more, see: Top 5 Oil and Gas Bond ETFs for 2016.)
United States Oil (USO)
Purpose: Seeks to track the performance of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) light, sweet crude oil.
Net Assets: $3.41 billion
Expense Ratio: 0.72%
YTD Performance: 5.18%
1-Year Performance: -37.72%
Inception Date: April 10, 2006
Performance Since Inception Date: -86.05%
Average Daily Trading Volume: 24 million
iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil (OIL)
Purpose: Offers unleveraged exposure to the S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return Index.
Net Assets: $838.35 million
Expense Ratio: 0.74%
YTD Performance: -17.02%
1-Year Performance: -43.62%
Inception Date: August 15, 2006
Performance Since Inception Date: -89.14%
Average Daily Trading Volume: 2.5 million
PowerShares DB Oil (DBO)
Purpose: Seeks to track the DBIQ Optimum Yield Crude Oil Index Excess Return.
Net Assets: $466.92 million
Expense Ratio: 0.78%
YTD Performance: -11.77%
1-Year Performance: -33.90%
Inception Date: January 5, 2007
Performance Since Inception Date: -67.33%
Average Daily Trading Volume: 375,000
ProShares Ultra Bloomberg Crude Oil (UCO)
Purpose: Seeks to track 2x the daily performance of the Bloomberg WTI Crude Oil Subindex.
Net Assets: $898.57 million
Expense Ratio: 0.95%
YTD Performance: -32.38%
1-Year Performance: -69.17%
Inception Date: November 24, 2008
Performance Since Inception Date: -98.12%
Average Daily Trading Volume: 9.3 million
VelocityShares 3x Long Crude Oil (UWTI)
Purpose: Seeks to track 3x the daily performance of the S&P GSCI Crude Oil Index.
Net Assets: $1.21 billion
Expense Ratio: 1.35%
YTD Performance: -53.34%
1-Year Performance: -87.74%
Inception Date: February 7, 2012
Performance Since Inception Date: -99.64%
Average Daily Trading Volume: 16 million
These ETFs might have trading potential, but they have not rewarded long-term investors. The expense ratios are high, there is no yield and two are leveraged. If you want to invest in oil, then you might be better off looking into individual stocks of companies that are diversified in regards to energy exposure. These companies have set themselves up for the future regardless of energy’s future direction. You might also want to consider companies with strong cash flow, a healthy balance sheet, consistent profitability and a dividend. (For more, see: USO: United States Oil Fund ETF Performance Case Study.)
Dan Moskowitz does not have any positions in the ETFs mentioned in this article.