Oil heading higher? Energy stocks don’t think so

Oil stocks doubting crude bounce?

Crude oil surged 4 percent on Thursday, as a military conflict in Yemen led to market-boosting geopolitical supply concerns. However, energy stocks have responded contrarily. The S&P 500 energy sector actually fell a bit on the day, with energy giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron dropping 0.6 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

So what explains the divergent reactions in the commodity and in the equities?

"The reason is simple: Today's spike in oil is purely due to the headline from Yemen," Raymond James energy analyst Pavel Molchanov wrote to CNBC. "This is a classic knee-jerk reaction, and the stocks are signaling that oil prices will subside once the Yemen news loses its shock value."

For traders, the real concern around Yemen centers on Saudi involvement. Saudi Arabia shares a long border with Yemen, and has gotten involved in the Yemen conflict by launching airstrikes against Shiite rebels. While Yemen is a minor player in the market, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world.

Read More Don't worry too much about Yemen conflict: Oil analyst

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Of course, whether WTI crude oil (which settled Thursday at $51.43 per barrel) does fall back below $50 remains to be seen.

But traders say there may be something more to the divergence between crude and energy stocks.

"Investors are definitely repositioning," commented Phillip Streible, senior market strategist at RJO Futures. "Oil stocks have gotten too far ahead of themselves due to their higher dividend yield. As rates come up, we see these stocks get less attractive—therefore, selling energy stocks make sense."

The 10-year Treasury yield rose on Thursday, touching 2 percent at one point.

"Oil futures, on the other hand, are giving you more of a 'pure play' on the rising geopolitical risks developing," Streible added.