When it comes down to oil exchange traded funds (ETFs), you can go a few different routes: you may choose direct exposure through energy commodities or energy producers, or there’s the indirect route with oil-rich countries.
But can that historic correlation between oil ETFs and oil-rich countries be counted on? It depends.
Jonathan Bernstein for ETF Zone notes that while the United States 12-Month Oil ETF (NYSEArca: USL) and iShares MSCI Canada (NYSEArca: EWC) showed similar movements during the crisis starting in Egypt, investors traded down Middle East ETFs due to higher political risk. [Middle East ETFs: Volatility Could Rule.]
Oil assets in the Middle East are usually stated-owned and not available for investment, while the majority of holdings in Middle East ETFs are in the financials sector. That could make them a riskier than normal bet right now if you’re looking to them to play oil.
The good news is that there are other oil-rich countries with less volatility and political risk. iShares MSCI Canada (NYSEArca: EWC) holds about a third of its assets in financials and around 25% in energy. Russia ETFs like Market Vectors Russia (NYSEArca: RSX) have some degree of political risk, but nothing like the Middle East right now. Russia ETFs can hold as much as 40% of their assets in the energy sector, making them a decent proxy for high prices.