The United States Oil Fund (NYSEArca: USO), which tracks West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures, is up more than 9% over the past month while the Energy Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLE), the largest equity-based energy exchange traded fund, is higher by “just” 6.7% over that same period.

Still, some market participants believe energy stocks will show more responsiveness to oil’s rally. Market observers and analysts argue that U.S. energy stocks are in a position to outperform broader equity markets this year, even if oil prices don’t move higher. The energy industry has grown more efficient after cutting costs in response to the plunge in crude oil prices in previous years, so they are now in a better position to improve revenue at lower oil prices.

“The divergence between what we’re seeing with crude oil and the XLE, this is a divergence that is clearly going to close,” Craig Johnson, chief market technician at Piper Jaffray, said in an interview with CNBC.

Related: As Oil Rises, an Interesting Scenario for Energy ETFs

Rising Oil Production

Declining prices in recent years have prompted scores of major oil producers to rein in capital spending. Technological improvements and greater efficiency has helped U.S. shale producers pump out crude oil at lower margins – some say it is now profitable at less than $50 per barrel. Additionally, companies are finding easy access to credit and private-equity firms have bought out struggling companies, which have kept production flowing. The U.S. could become the world’s largest oil producer later this year.

“U.S. crude oil exports moved north of 2 million barrels per day at the end of March, its highest level on record. Analysts expect that supply to grow this year with the U.S. possibly overtaking Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest producer,” according to CNBC.

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