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In an effort to educate investors of all kinds on the various ways to invest in crude oil, we outline 25 options to add exposure to portfolios. Investments will span from those that are only meant for active traders, to those that can be held in a retirement portfolio, all of which make a play on this vital energy source.


Offshore Oil Platform

Futures were the original method for obtaining exposure to commodities. These contracts can be difficult to understand and require a rather complex futures account, so they are not meant for the average investor. For those who fully understand the nuances of these contracts, futures can be one of the most powerful trading tools, offering exposure that, in some cases, can’t be found anywhere else in the market. The following futures contracts are offered on the NYMEX at the CME Group [see also 25 Ways To Invest In Natural Gas]:

  1. Light Sweet Crude Oil (CL): These futures track West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude and are quoted in U.S. dollars and cents per barrel. Each contract represents 1,000 barrels and is optionable.
  2. Brent Crude (BZ): While not nearly as popular as the WTI futures, Brent offers a different kind of exposure to crude. These contracts, which are also optionable, represent 1,000 barrels.
  3. E-mini Crude Oil (QM): These futures, which offer exposure to WTI crude, represent 500 barrels per contract. This allows for smaller investors to make a play on crude without having to shell out the hefty assets required for CL contracts.
  4. Crude Oil Volatility Index (CVF): These VIX-based contracts offer exposure to the volatility exhibited in crude oil prices. The contracts are a bit tricky and should only be used by those who can confidently invest. They can be a powerful tool for making a play on crude’s high volatility.
  5. RBOB Gasoline (RB): Rather than investing in unrefined crude oil, these contracts invest in RBOB gasoline, which is simply the gas available at the pump. Some consider these contracts a better play on the consumer sector, as crude and gasoline prices do not always align.


Investing the equity side of the equation isn’t a pure play on crude oil, but it can make for a number of interesting opportunities that other investment vehicles simply don’t offer. Equities that focus on this commodity will most often consist of exploration, pipeline, or refining companies that can offer a number of advantages over other options. A fair amount of these companies offer strong dividend options and high liquidity for traders of all kinds [see also Dividend Special: Top Companies In Every Major Commodity Sector]:

  1. Exxon Mobil Corporation (XOM): The principle business of XOM, a Texas-based company, is the exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas. The company has hundreds of affiliates that operate internationally.
  2. British Petroleum Plc. (BP): Founded in 1889, this oil and gas company is headquartered in London, England, but runs operations all over the world. The two segments the company operates in are the exploration and production and the refining and marketing of oil and natural gas. It is estimated the company produced 2.1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2014.
  3. Chevron Corporation (CVX): CVX is a multinational corporation that operates in more than 180 countries. It operates in all aspects of the oil, gas, and geothermal energy industry. The two segments of the company are Upstream and Downstream. The Upstream portion is responsible for the exploration, development, and production of crude, as well as transportation through pipelines, while the Downstream portion is responsible for refining crude and marketing crude oil.
  4. ConocoPhillips (COP): COP is another integrated energy company, meaning it is engaged in the exploration, production, transportation, marketing and sale of crude oil. The company was founded in 1875 and is headquartered in Houston, Texas.
  5. Royal Dutch Shell Plc. (RDS-A): RDS is a fully integrated oil and gas company and is one of the six large oil and gas players. The vertically integrated company operates in all aspects of crude oil.
  6. Transocean Ltd. (RIG): The main segment of RIG is contracting drilling services for oil and gas wells. The company also participates in the exploration and production of oil and gas. It’s market cap was approximately $7.7 billion as of May 13, 2015, which is significantly less than that of the major players in the oil and gas industry, but still represents a large-cap play.
  7. Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (APC): Headquartered in Texas, APC is another large player in oil and gas exploration and production. As of December 31, 2014, the company held 2.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent of proved reserves.
  8. Petrochina Co. Ltd. (PTR): This oil and gas producer and seller operates in mainland China. The state-owned corporation is China’s biggest oil producer and is split into four segments: exploration and production, refining and chemicals, marketing, and natural gas and pipeline.
  9. Petroleo Brasileiro (PBR): Founded in 1953 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, PBR is involved in the exploration, production, development, and production of oil. This multinational energy corporation also owns oil refineries and oil tankers. The company is known for its deep and ultra-deep water oil production.
  10. Halliburton Company (HAL): One of the biggest names in oil, this stock features a market cap of approximately $40.2 billion and an average daily volume nearing 14 million (data as of May 13, 2015). Based in Houston, Texas, Halliburton has its hands in the global market for both crude oil and natural gas.
  11. Apache Corporation (APA): Apache is best known for its exploration and production of crude in various locations around the world, including the Gulf of Mexico, Western Canada, and Egypt among others.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

Oil Pipeline Over a River

ETFs have been extremely effective for helping to spread commodities to a number of different investors. While it used to be that only futures traders had access to various asset classes, ETFs have helped the average Joe gain exposure to something like gasoline futures in their portfolio with just one simple fund. When it comes to crude exposure, there are ETFs for nearly every segment of the market including producers, explorers, and futures [see also Three Things Wall Street Journal Didn’t Tell You About Commodities]:

  1. United States Oil Fund (USO): This ETF tracks front-month West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude contracts. USO is also one of the more liquid ETF options on the market. Beware, however, as USO is known to exhibit some nasty contango and should be fully researched before investing.
  2. United States Brent Oil Fund (BNO): This fund tracks futures for Brent oil, a heavier crude that is typically found in the North Atlantic. Though Brent accounts for nearly two-thrids of global oil trading, this fund does not have quite the popularity as WTI.
  3. Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE): One of the most popular ETFs, XLE allocates its funds to the who’s who of big oil. Exxon, Chevron, Schlumberger, and Kinder Morgan all find their way into the top holdings of this product. Note, however, that it is a U.S.-focused fund and leaves out important companies like British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell.
  4. United States 12 Month Oil Fund (USL): This fund tracks WTI with a twist; it aims to reflect the changes in percentage terms of the price of light, sweet crude oil, as measured by the changes in the average of the prices of 12-month futures contracts on crude oil. The longer-dated exposure may help spread out risks while alleviating some contango issues.
  5. S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return Index ETN (OIL): This ETF tracks an index that is designed to reflect the potential returns from an unleveraged investment in WTI crude oil futures contracts and the Treasury Bill interest rate earned on funds tied to the trading of the underlying contracts. Because of its methedology, the fund can offer investors a higher return than comparable products since it collateralizes its investment with T-Bills.
  6. S&P Global Energy Index Fund (IXC): This ETF is similar to XLE but instead offers exposure to the global oil industry, which may offer better diversification benefits for a portfolio. The fund has more than half of its assets in the U.S. but still features exposure to the U.K., Canada, and France.
  7. DB Oil Fund (DBO): This fund tracks WTI futures and has a specially designed strategy that may change its roll process depending on current market situations. The methodology is designed to minimize the impact of contango and maximize effects of backwardation.
  8. United States Gasoline Fund LP (UGA): UGA will offer something of an indirect play on crude as it tracks futures contracts on RBOB gasoline, one of the main derivations of crude. Though it will be heavily affected by crude’s performance, UGA can have more of a unique makeup to it as gas prices do not always trend with crude.
  9. SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Explor & Product (XOP): This ETF aims to invest in companies that are actively involved in the exploration and production of oil. Top holdings include big-name firms like Clean Energy Fuels and Rosetta Resources.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our free daily commodity investing newsletter and follow us on Twitter @CommodityHQ.

Disclosure: Jared Cummans is long BP.

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