Signs of a Return to Energy ETFs

The United States Oil Fund (NYSEArca: USO), which tracks West Texas Intermediate oil, and the United States Brent Oil Fund (NYSEArca: BNO) are down 13.8% and 9.5%, respectively, this year, but those dismal showings are not preventing some investors from stepping back into equity-based energy ETFs.

Although it has traded modestly lower this year, the Energy Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLE) is the second-best asset gatherer among the nine sector SPDR ETFs with $1.2 billion of 2015 inflows.

After being the S&P 500’s worst performer last year, the energy sector has been an attractive play from a so-called mean-reservation perspective – the idea that prices and returns eventually move back towards the mean or average. Now that the energy sector has experienced a large pullback, traders are anticipating the sector will at the very least revert back to its historical average. [Sector ETF Ideas for March]

Other energy ETFs are joining XLE in attracting new assets. As much was seen last week when, in a holiday-shortened trading week, USO fell modestly. That did not stopped $947.5 million from flowing into the iShares U.S. Energy ETF (NYSEArca: IYE). The $2.1 billion funds led all ETFs in terms of added assets last week.

Like XLE, IYE features a massive combined weight to Dow components Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX). The two largest U.S. oil companies combine for over 33% of IYE’s weight. That is an important factor a time when there is concern about the ability of Exxon and Chevron to keep their lengthy dividend increase streaks alive.

The ability of Chevron and Exxon to continuing raising dividends as oil prices plummet is important because while Wall Street and Main Street have been somewhat tolerant of the companies’ plans to trim exploration and production spending and suspend buybacks, not extending dividend increase streaks would universally be seen as a negative. [ETFs for Upcoming Dividend Increases]

Exxon, which has a dividend increase streak of 32 years, usually raises its dividend in April. The energy sector was one of the worst offenders for first-quarter dividend cuts or suspensions. [A Slow Q1 for Dividend Increases]