ETF Trends
ETF Trends

West Texas intermediate for February delivery is trading modestly higher Wednesday, reclaiming the $46 per barrel level after briefly flirting with a drop below $45.

Today’s modest upside for the benchmark U.S. oil contract is not enough to facilitate bullish views on oil futures, nor is it enough to prevent more bearish views on energy stocks and exchange traded funds. The SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (NYSEArca: XOP) and the iShares U.S. Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (NYSEArca: IEO) are each off about 2% Wednesday after Barclays paredits view on the exploration and production industry.

Barclays lowered its rating on large-cap E&P firms to negative from neutral while paring its view on small-cap E&P companies to negative from positive, reports Johanna Bennett for Barron’s.

More sensitive to oil’s fluctuations than their integrated peers, E&P equities have been bludgeoned by oil’s plunges. While the United States Oil Fund (NYSEArca: USO) has slid 43.3% over the past 90 days, IEO and XOP are off 14% and 26%, respectively over the same period. [Traders Pass on Bearish Oil ETFs]

“The disconnect between the oil futures curve and commodity price assumptions the market is reflecting in E&P shares is now wide enough that we think the downside risk to equity values clearly outweighs any potential gains if oil prices do recover. Further, we think the likelihood of an oil price recovery back towards levels anticipated by the equity markets is becoming increasingly unlikely, at least through the end of this year,” said Barclays analyst Thomas Driscoll in a note posted by Barron’s.

Barclays downgraded multiple E&P companies, including Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK), SandRidge Energy (NYSE: SD), Resolute Energy (NYSE: REN), Halcon Resources (NYSE: HK), Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN), Continental Resources (NYSE: CLR), Kosmos Energy (NYSE: KOS), Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO), RSP Permian (NasdaqGS: RSPP) and Whiting Petroleum (NYSE: WLL), according to Barron’s.

As an equal-weight ETF, XOP is not excessively exposed to any of those names on an individual basis, but in aggregate, continued downside for those stocks will be problematic for the ETF. Of the stocks mentioned above, XOP does not hold shares of Resolute Resources, but the rest of the names combine for nearly 12% of the ETF’s weight.

Some of those names, including Chesapeake and Whiting Petroleum, are becoming favorite destinations for short seller. [Short Sellers Love This ETF’s Holdings]

IEO is cap-weighted, so its exposure to some of the stocks downgraded by Barclays is even heavier than XOP’s. For example, Devon, Marathon Oil and Chesapeake combine for 9.5% of IEO’s weight.

SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF