The battered S&P 500 Energy Sector has raced into bull-market territory despite crude oil prices treading near 18-year lows.

The sector gained 22.27 percent in the five days through Wednesday, making it the third-fastest trek from a bear market low to a bull market in history, buoying holders of the sector-linked Energy Select SPDR Fund. The exchange-traded fund rose 3.6 percent on Thursday.

“The pain trade is clearly a rally in highly-indebted companies, and many oils clearly fit that category,” wrote Paul Sankey, managing director at Mizuho Securities.

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U.S. shale companies were pummeled this month by oil prices that tumbled as much as 63 percent from March 9 when Saudi Arabia slashed prices for its customers and lowered production in response to

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