5 Best (And 5 Worst) ETF Performers Over The Last 5 Years

by on November 27, 2012 | ETFs Mentioned:

Though it’s nothing compared to recent years, this past year has been marked by uncertainty, prompting investors to return in droves from safe haven accounts to the U.S. stock market. Investors have their eyes fixed on major indexes and other indicators to judge the overall health of our economy, but another way to judge the boom markets is by watching which ETFs have taken off since last year. Needless to say, some industries have evolved with the changing economic climate, while others have fallen far behind [see Actionable ETF Trading Ideas].

Below, we highlight a handful of ETFs that have surged over the past five years (note that inverse and leveraged ETFs are excluded from this list; see the best and worst ETFs over the past five years including leveraged and inverse):

Ticker ETF 5 Year Return
SLV Silver Trust  129.9%
BBH Market Vectors Biotech ETFt 115.9%
DBS DB Silver Fund 115.7%
IAU COMEX Gold Trust 114.9%
GLD SPDR Gold Trust 113.7%
  1. Silver Trust (SLV, C+), Up 129.9%: Many investors have found huge returns in precious metals over the last five years, as they are often used as a safe haven during times of economic uncertainty. When other investments turn sour, precious metals flourish, and none more than silver. This metal is often over looked for its golden counter part but, as seen here, tracking the spot price of the silver bullion can bring in dramatic returns.
  2. Market Vectors Biotech ETF (BBH, B), Up 115.9%: Biotech funds have taken off after the first few implementations of this country’s new healthcare regulations, and with the reelection of President Obama it seems the only way to go is up. This fund follows a rule-based index intended to track the overall performance of the 25 largest U.S. publicly-traded biotech companies including Amgen, Gilead Sciences and Biogen.
  3. DB Silver Fund (DBS, C), Up 115.7%: While the markets are in turmoil, precious metals thrive, and the last five years have been great for safe haven investors. This silver fund is a rules-based index composed of futures contracts on silver, unlike other ETFs on this list which use spot price tracking.
  4. COMEX Gold Trust (IAU, A), Up 114.9%: Another precious metal ETF, this one focuses on the spot price of gold. This six-year-old fund is locked in a long-term feud with GLD, but over the last five years has been able to pull ahead [see Free Report: Everything You Need To Know About Commodity ETFs].
  5. SPDR Gold Trust (GLD, A-), Up 113.7%: This gold ETF is the largest in the world and, like IAU, it tracks the spot price of gold. With vaults located in London, this fund is shrouded in mystery but can also be a great safe haven for nervous investors.

Below are five of the biggest non-leveraged losers over the past year:

Ticker ETF 5 Year Return
GAZ DJ-UBS Natural Gas Subindex Total Return ETN -93.4%
UNG United States Natural Gas Fund LP -92.6%
PBW WilderHill Clean Energy Portfolio -83.3%
GEX Market Vectors Global Alternative Energy ETF -78.4%
PBD Global Clean Energy Portfolio -73.5%
  1. DJ-UBS Natural Gas Subindex Total Return ETN (GAZ, B-), Down 93.4%: Over the last five years, natural gas has proven to be a great investment for vigilant and careful investors in the short term. But holding a fund like GAZ for too long has led to trouble. By holding a single natural gas contract at a time, it really becomes the luck of the draw with this fund.
  2. United States Natural Gas Fund LP (UNG, B), Down 92.6%: UNG also offers exposure to natural gas futures contracts but hedges some of this risk by holding multiple contracts at one time. Even so, this fund has also fallen prey to rough economic times and unstable commodities investing.
  3. WilderHill Clean Energy Portfolio (PBW, A-), Down 83.3%: Clean energy is the dream of a stable economy, and over the last five years investors have abandoned this and many other alternative energy ETFs for more consistent funds. This particular ETF is designed to deliver capital appreciation through the selection of companies that focus on renewable sources of energy and the technologies behind this goal, neither of which have performed well recently.
  4. Market Vectors Global Alternative Energy ETF (GEX, B-), Down 78.4%: This worldwide fund seeks publicly-traded companies that are principally engaged in the alternative energy industry. With top holdings in companies like Cooper Industries, Cree and Enel Green Power, this fund has not had a single year of positive returns since inception.
  5. Global Clean Energy Portfolio (PBD, A), Down 73.5%:  Much like the other alternative energy ETFs listed, this fund tries to deliver capital appreciation and is composed of companies involved in renewable energy and the technology facilitating clean energy. Mostly made up of European, American and Chinese corporations, this fund scoured the globe for returns and found none.

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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.