August 18, 2008 at 10:23 AM EDT
The ETF Energy Troika

The ETF revolution is making it much easier than ever before to draw comparisons across related groups of stocks and commodities.

In the past, it has been easy to compare and contrast the price action in crude oil and natural gas. With the advent of a coal ETF (KOL), now it is easy to lump coal into the same comparison.

The chart below shows the crude oil (USO) and natural gas (UNG) commodity ETF as well as the recently launched coal ETF, which is based on a basket of coal stocks (top holdings are BTU, CNX, and ACI). This comparison may have an element of apples to pears about it, but the correlation across energy sources is unmistakable. Note that all three ETFs peaked at the beginning of July and have fallen sharply for the last month and a half. KOL seems to be the best candidate to find a bottom first, with USO showing some signs of flattening out and UNG still heading lower. KOL was the first of the three ETFs to top in June and July; could it be the first to signal a bottoming energy market in August?

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