With just over a month in the books for 2010, equity markets have already been taken on a wild ride. After an initial jump, concerns over a government-imposed slowdown in China weighed on global stocks, particularly emerging markets and commodity-intensive businesses. As we enter February, many equity ETFs find themselves in the red for the year, attempting to claw back to break-even.
But we profile a seven funds that are off to a hot start in 2009. Many of 2009′s best performers–such as emerging markets and technology ETFs–are clustered far down the list, while many of the laggards of 2009 have surged ahead.
7. WisdomTree Japan Total Dividend Fund (DXJ)
This ETF represents the crossroads of two equity styles that performed poorly in 2009. Dividend-weighted ETFs lagged behind cap-weighted and other fundamentals-weighted ETFs as investors flocked to more risky growth stocks that had been battered during the downturn, while Japan was one of the few economies that failed to get back on track in the final three quarters of last year.
This year has been a different story, as Japanese equities have showed early gains on hopes that the most recent stimulus package will prove to be effective despite a consistently strong yen. DXJ has already more than doubled its gains from 2009.
YTD Performance: +4.2%
6. Global X/InterBolsa FTSE Colombia 20 ETF (GXG)
Most investors looking for exposure to South America steer towards Brazilian equities, which enjoyed a huge run-up last year both before and after the 2016 Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro. But Colombia has outshone its much larger neighbor so far in 2010, jumping more than 5% on anticipation of rising commodity prices this year and integration with Peruvian and Chilean equity markets by 2011. Some major Colombian benchmarks have even reached new all-time highs in 2010, reflecting the widely-varying rates of recovery between developed and emerging markets. See a closer loof at the Colombian ETF here.
YTD Performance: +5.4%
5. SPDR KBW Mortgage Finance ETF (KME)
This ETF tracks an index designed to measure the performance of the U.S. mortgage finance industry, including pure mortgage players, mortgage insurers, and banks and thrifts with significant mortgage loan portfolios in the U.S. Major components of KME include New York Community Bancorp, DR Horton, and Lender Processing Services.
Solid earnings reports have lifted the financial sector, while an impressive uptick in home sales activity (discussed more below) has also boosted KME.
YTD Performance: +6.0%
4. iShares MSCI Turkey Index Fund (TUR)
Turkish equity markets have continued their strong performance from last year, as talks with the International Monetary Fund on a new loan deal have boosted credit ratings and improved the country’s long-term financial stability.
Turkey also completed the auction of 10 year local currency bonds in January, the country’s longest maturity bond sale on the domestic market. The successful issue represented a major step forward for the development of Turkey’s debt portfolio. Turkey has successfully implemented a number of market reforms in recent years, dramatically lowering its fiscal deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio. In December, Fitch raised Turkey’s sovereign credit rating to BB+, one notch below investment grade. See a more in-depth look at the Turkey ETF here.
YTD Performance: +6.5%
3. iShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index Fund (ITB)
This ETF got a big boost from a report from the National Association of Realtors this week indicating that pending home sales rose 1% in December after dropping more than 15% in November. The index was up nearly 11% over the same period in 2008. The jump reflects the impact of the extension of the federal tax credit for first time home buyers that was originally set to expire on November 30. Congress has now extended the $8,000 credit for qualified first-time buyers and $6,500 credit for repeat buyers to sign a contract by April 30 and close by June 30 to be eligible for the subsidy.
ITB jumped more than 5% following the data release, boosted by big gains in components Pulte, DR Horton, and NVR, which make up nearly a third of the fund.
YTD Performance: +8.2%
2. Claymore/Delta Global Shipping Index ETF (SEA)
SEA was one of the ETFs hit the hardest on the way down (it lost more almost 70% between September 2008 and March 2009), and has been one of the top performers on the way back up. Despite a potential pullback in Chinese demand, prospects for the global shipping industry have taken a turn for the better this year, with rates firming up and relatively strong commodity prices giving a boost as well.
Along with seemingly every other ETF, SEA’s primary source of uncertainty comes from China, as a reduction in government stimulus spending could curb needs for raw materials from Australia and South America. Read more on the shipping ETF in this feature.
YTD Performance: +8.4%
1. SPDR KBW Bank ETF (KBE)
Big banks have found themselves in the crosshairs of an increasingly populist administration so far in 2010, so it may come as a surprise that KBE, which counts Wall Street institutions such as Bank of America, Citi, and JP Morgan among its largest holdings, is one of the year’s best performers to date.
Financials ETFs have received a boost from impressive performances during earnings season, with many big institutions reporting profits on par with the glory days of the early 2000s. After trailing broad-based benchmarks for much of the last two years, KBE has raced ahead in 2010, but this fund faces some challenges in keeping this position, including the significant political and regulatory uncertainty.
YTD Performance: +8.4%
Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.