Best Oil Mutual Funds

How to Get Indirect Exposure to Oil With Mutual Funds

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Investing in crude oil can be a smart idea unless you think that oil is an unlimited resource or that the world will decrease its dependency upon it. There are no mutual funds that invest directly in oil, but plenty of top funds can expose you to oil-related industries. You can get indirect exposure to oil with mutual funds, and you can profit as oil prices rise over time.

Pros and Cons of Oil Mutual Funds

Oil prices are subject to ups and downs, so it's key to think about the pros and cons of this type of investment.

  • Investing in oil-related industries can result in large returns.

  • Equity energy funds offer less risky exposure to oil-related industries.

  • Master limited partnerships (MLPs) are best for those looking for high yields.

  • No mutual funds invest directly in crude oil.

  • A large allocation to one energy sector can be risky.

  • MLP performance can be volatile

Best Types of Funds to Profit From Oil

Two types of mutual funds that have a great correlation to movements in the price of oil: equity energy funds and natural resources funds.

If you felt that the price of oil was going to move higher, either in the short term or in the long run, and if you wanted to take advantage of that with mutual funds, you could do so with most equity energy funds and some select natural resources funds as well. You may also want to think about using commodity ETFs if you want high exposure or high correlation to the price of oil.

Best Equity Energy Funds

Oil prices can be all over the board. Some investors may not want to have full exposure because of this. They'd rather have moderate exposure through equity energy funds. These are also known as energy sector funds. Most energy funds invest in oil-related industries that are involved in producing and distributing energy. This includes the oil, electric, wind, solar power, and coal industries.

Energy corporations include Exxon Mobil (XOM), Haliburton (HAL), and Southwestern Energy Company (SWN).

There's also a subsector of specialty funds that invest in master limited partnerships (MLPs). These are “pass-through” vehicles that don’t pay taxes at the fund level. They're required to pay out most of their current income to investors, similar to real estate investment trusts (REITs). The major difference between MLPs and REITs is that MLPs invest mostly in energy assets like oil and gas instead of in real estate.

These are a few of the best energy sector mutual funds you might want to think about.

Vanguard Energy Fund Investor Shares (VGENX)

This equity energy fund from Vanguard provides broad exposure to the sector with about 120 stocks. These include top holdings XOM, Chevron Corp. (CVX), and BP plc (BP).

Some energy sector funds include stocks of companies outside the energy sector. But VGENX focuses only on energy stocks. This pure focus makes VGENX a good choice if you want full exposure to oil. The narrow focus can make the fund more volatile than the broader market. That's the nature of sector funds.

VGENX has a low expense ratio of 0.37%, or $37 for every $10,000 invested. The minimum startup purchase is $3,000.

Fidelity Select Energy (FSENX)

FSENX may be the best choice if you want heavy exposure to energy stocks. More than 50% of the total portfolio assets are allocated to the top ten holdings. These include CVX, XOM, and EOG Resources (EOG). The portfolio consists of about 50 holdings. This is often at least 80% energy sector stocks.

The expense ratio for FSENX is 0.85%. There is no minimum to start investing.

Cavanal Hill World Energy Fund Investor (APWEX)

Investors looking for a diversified energy fund that is managed well should look at APWEX. It's not a household name, but Cavanal Hill invests in quality stocks that it believes "have excellent growth potential while trying to minimize downside."

Unlike many energy funds, APWEX invests in a combination of U.S. equities and foreign stocks. It even adds bonds—around 15% of assets—to the mix. The fund has only been on the market since 2014, but it's earned a 5-star rating from Morningstar

Expenses for APWEX are average for the energy sector category at 1.16%. The minimum startup purchase is $100.

Invesco Oppenheimer SteelPath MLP Select 40 Fund (MLPTX)

This MLP fund focuses most of its assets on limited partnerships that are involved in petroleum transportation and natural gas pipelines. MLP performance can be up and down. The structure is complex. Do your homework before buying these funds. MLPs are often best if you're looking for high yields, often as high as 7% or more.

The expense ratios of MLP funds can be complex and high.

The fund often returns fees where the net expenses are 1% to 2%. Research MLPTX and other MLP funds before investing. They can be great tools when they're used right.

Best Natural Resources Funds

Natural resources are commodity-based industries such as energy, chemicals, minerals, and forest products. They're both inside and outside the U.S. Two natural resources funds are low-cost, no-loads with average to above-average exposure to oil-related industries compared to other natural resource funds.

Fidelity Global Commodity Stock Fund (FFGCX)

This fund from Fidelity concentrates about 20% of its assets on energy sector stocks, such as CVX and XOM. About 44% is focused on metals. Almost 34% is focused on agriculture. Everything else is tagged "other." The global reach for FFGCX can offer greater diversification compared to natural resource funds that focus only on the North America region.

The expense ratio for FFGCX is 1.02%. There's no minimum deposit.

T. Rowe Price New Era Fund (PRNEX)

PRNEX is a smart choice if you're looking for a low-cost fund that offers above-average exposure to oil-related industries. The portfolio consists of 115 stocks, with about 52% being U.S. companies and about 41% overseas. More than 12% is in energy industrial stocks. Another 11% is in metals and mining.

Other sectors include chemicals, integrateds, and energy services and processors. The capitalization is spread across small-, mid- and large-caps. The expense ratio for PRNEX is 0.72%. The minimum startup purchase to open an account is $2,500.

The Bottom Line

Sector funds can be used wisely as diversification tools. But large allocations to one sector, such as oil and energy, can be risky. Sector exposure for most investors is suggested to be no more than 5% to 10% of the total assets. Mutual funds may be the way to go if you're thinking of investing in oil. Just keep your risk tolerance and investment goals in mind before buying into these funds.

NOTE: The Balance doesn't provide tax or investment services or advice. This information does not consider the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any one investor. It might not be right for all investors. Investing involves risk, including the loss of principal.