Energy ETFs hit multiyear highs amid Russia-Ukraine conflict. How to trade them

Energy sector ETFs are reaching new multiyear highs this week as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine intensifies.

The Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLE) hit highs not seen since 2018 on Thursday. The SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration and Production ETF (XOP) climbed to levels not seen since 2019.

On Feb. 24 “when the news broke, we saw a dislocation between broad-based energy and more domestically oriented energy stocks,” State Street Global Advisors’ Matthew Bartolini told CNBC’s “ETF Edge” this week. “XOP was up on the day while XLE was down.”

Even so, both ETFs have seen heavy trading volumes this past week, with XLE raking in more than $500 million in inflows in just two days, said Bartolini, head of SPDR Americas Research at State Street, in the Monday interview.

Bartolini helps manage both XLE, which has heavy allocations to both Chevron and Exxon, and XOP, a more equal-weighted fund invested in Occidental Petroleum, ConocoPhillips and other energy producers. The war in Ukraine has caused oil prices to soar above $116 a barrel this week.

“Traders are really searching for a position in an elevated oil environment, but also elevated oil volatility,” he said.

The Van Eck Oil Services ETF (OIH), which holds shares of Schlumberger, Halliburton and other oil service providers, has also made its way back to pre-pandemic highs.

It could have another catalyst in store, Van Eck Associates CEO Jan van Eck said in the same interview.

“I think we’ve got a lot more upside to OIH if we expect oil prices to stay high,” he said. “Eventually the majors and the [upstream companies] will increase capacity and OIH will be a beneficiary to that.”

OIH is up more than 7% since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Van Eck is a self-proclaimed “super-bull on commodities” and said the current market environment provides “an unbelievably good setup for a multiyear bull market.”