ETF Trends
ETF Trends

With escalating tensions over Iran and the threat of an oil disruption occurring this year gradually getting priced into oil, it’s worth entertaining the idea that consumers may face some serious headwinds as energy costs rise due to factors completely outside their control.

Oil itself has diverged substantially from other commodities, which have languished in the face of a slowdown in China and austerity measures taken in Europe. [Oil ETFs Rise on Iran Tensions]

With tensions only increasing in recent weeks due to Iran’s war games on the Strait of Hormuz and threats of disrupting oil transportation, it seems likely that energy prices will remain relatively elevated all year.

Take a look below at the price ratio of the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEArca: XLY) relative to the Energy Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLE).

As a reminder, a rising price ratio means the numerator/XLY is outperforming (up more/down less) the denominator/XLE.

There are a few things to note about the relationship of discretionary stocks to energy. First, the price ratio does tend to trend fairly well, meaning that leadership of a sector relative to the other appears to persist for exploitable periods of time. Notice in particular how energy outperforms discretionary stocks when oil prices rise at a consistent pace as they did once QE2 was implemented in the latter half of 2010.

The ratio also tends to spike when oil prices are significantly weak and dropping as occurred in September of last year when commodities fell hard on the European debt crisis.

It appears that the outperformance of the discretionary sector is now coming to an end, as the far right of the chart looks to be signaling a period of weakness ahead for all-things consumer relative to energy stocks. This may not bode well for equities in the near term given how important the discretionary sector has been to the bull market that began in March 2009. Further escalations in the Middle East may be the straw that breaks the consumer’s back.

The author, Pension Partners, LLC, and/or its clients may hold positions in securities mentioned in this article at time of writing. The commentary does not constitute individualized investment advice. The opinions offered herein are not personalized recommendations to buy, sell or hold securities.