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Global Uncertainty Helps Energy ETFs

NEW YORK ( Fabian Capital Management) -- With the global crisis in Syria seemingly heating up by the hour, the energy sector is thriving, based on the expectation of another regional conflict.

The price of oil just recently surged to a new overnight high of $112 a barrel and some experts are predicting that it could ultimately settle between $125 and $150.

This type of surge is not uncommon when geopolitical or socioeconomic uncertainty rears its ugly head. We saw a similar reaction in the energy markets in 2011 when the U.S. was engaged in keeping peace in Libya.

Not surprisingly, we are seeing a great deal of strength in ETFs that track the underlying price of crude oil, as well as energy stocks that stand to benefit from higher oil prices.

The United States Oil Fund (USO), which tracks the daily price of light sweet crude, just hit new year-to-date highs and is now more than 27% above its April low. USO has benefited from strong demand and low oil inventories during the summer peak demand season, which led to higher energy prices.

Any type of retaliation or conflict in Syria could lead to a very rapid surge higher in USO, as well.

One of the largest ETFs that track energy stocks is the Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE). This ETF comprises 45 large-cap companies and is heavily weighted towards its three largest holdings, Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX) and Schlumberger (SLB). Combined, those three stocks make up more than 37% of the fund's holdings.

Despite bouts of volatility, XLE has gained over 15% this year amid strength in oil prices. Probably the biggest worry for this ETF is the flagging performance of its largest holding, Exxon Mobil.

Exxon has failed to keep pace with the rest of the sector and is trying desperately to keep from slipping into negative territory for the year. The combination of the stock's being oversold and the Syria conflict has propped up Exxon's price for the time being, but it remains to be seen whether this stock will be able to regain momentum for the remainder of the year.
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