The ETF Performance Visualizer

Published on September 24, 2013 | Updated April 4, 2014

Exchange traded funds burst onto the scene in 1993, forever changing the world of investing. With so many funds now available, it can be difficult to take a look at the ETF industry as a whole.

This tool takes a step back and presents the annual performance of each ETF  by year. The Y-axis measures each fund’s percent return in the specified year, while the X-axis correlates with the inception date of the fund. The bubble size represents the fund’s current assets under management (in millions of USD). You can click on a desired year or simply use the “Previous Year” and “Next Year” buttons to scroll through each year. Hover over any bubble to see the name of the ETF and other vital stats. If you’d like to learn more about a particular fund simply click on its respective bubble to view its in-depth ticker page. Note that the chart is not compatible with certain versions of IE.

1994: ETFs on the Books

1994 was the first full calendar year for the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY, A), which managed to eke out a 1% gain. The investing world was relatively quiet, as it would be on the verge of one of the biggest run-ups in stock market history. General Electric (GE) was the largest holding in SPY at the time, while AT&T (T) and Exxon Mobil (XOM) were the next two largest positions.

1995: The Bull Run Begins

SPY was still the only fund in existence at the end of 1995, but as markets began to soar, that trend would not last very long. SPY returned a handsome 38% for its shareholders in 1995. That same year saw Microsoft ((MSFT)) crack the top 10 holdings of the fund, while familiar faces like Exxon Mobil and Coca-Cola ((KO)) still dominated the top slots.

1996: The ETF World Doubles

The SPDR MidCap Trust Series I (MDY, B) debuted in April of 1995, but wouldn’t complete its first full calendar year until the close of 1996. As the internet bubble continued to build, stocks reaped the rewards with SPY and MDY returning 22% and 15% respectively. The year would see Intel (INTC) explode onto the scene as it became the fourth largest component of the S&P 500, beating out big name firms like Merck (MRK) and IBM (IBM).

1997: International ETFs Earn Their Keep

At the beginning of 1996, iShares debuted 17 country-specific funds, essentially growing the ETF world eightfold. When the funds put in their first full year in 1997, the results were quite a mixed bag. While the funds that focused on Mexico and Italy both gained over 30%, the ETF dedicated to Malaysia suffered a loss of 67%. 1997 would be the last year ever that no new ETFs debuted.

1998: The Final Slowdown

With no new products hitting the market in 1997, investors were able to focus on a core group of funds for 1998. The best performing fund of the year was the MSCI Belgium Capped ETF (EWK, B-), which soared more than 58%. U.S. stocks continued to climb higher while the 17 international funds fell all across the board.

1999: The Internet Bubble

At the height of the internet bubble, most ETFs were enjoying strong returns, as there were only five products that lost ground on the year. This would also be the first year that a fund’s price would double, as the MSCI Malaysia ETF (EWM, A) gained 106% during the 12 month stretch. 1999 would also be the first full year for the sector SPDR products, which made their debut in December of 1998.

2000: Recession Takes Over

Investors may be surprised to learn that the first full year for the QQQ ETF (QQQ, B+) was a miserable one, as the tech-heavy fund surrendered more than 35% as U.S. recession took over. Just a handful of ETFs were able to finish higher during 2000, with XLF and XLP being the lone bright spots, raking in 25% in an otherwise weak year.

2001: The ETF World Surges

Forty-five funds hit the market in 2000, making for a total of 75 ETFs trading during the 2001 calendar year. Though the economy was still in rough shape, the exchange traded world started to run higher as investors quickly adopted the easy to use, transparent products. The majority of the ETF world finished the year in the red, but the MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (EWY, B-) was able to rake in 46%, putting it well above the competition for the year.

2002:  The End is in sight

The final year of the recession would take a massive toll on the entire investing space in 2002. Almost every fund finished down, with the MSCI Austria Index Fund (EWO, C) being the only fund to jump more than 5%. The worst performance of the year befell the North American Tech-Multimedia Networking ETF (IGN, B+), which lost 56% in its first full calendar year.

2003: Back on Top

After a rough patch, benchmarks and markets all around the world soared in 2003 with not a single ETF turning in a negative performance on the year. 2003 also marked the first calendar year for 10 ETFs, all of which made their debut in the latter half of 2002. The year’s best performer was the MSCI Brazil Capped ETF (EWZ, A-), which grew 117%, the largest one year gain of any ETF to that date.

2004: Bullish Momentum Continues

Though concerns over a growing housing bubble began to emerge, equities continued to rise in 2004, with only one ETF logging in a negative performance on the year. 2004′s best performer was iShares’ MSCI Mexico ETF (EWW, A), which gained 24% during the year. Both the MSCI Belgium ETF (EWK, B-) and the MSCI South Africa ETF (EZA, B) also delivered strong returns. The PHLX SOX Semiconductor Sector Index Fund (SOXX, A-), however, was the only ETF to lose momentum, shedding 14% during the year.

2005: U.S. Housing Market Becomes “Frothy”

Wall Street became a bit more skeptical during 2005, even though former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan noted that “at a minimum, there’s a little ‘froth’” in the U.S. housing market. Despite this, 2005 saw 58 new exchange-traded funds hit the street, including the popular GLD-alternative COMEX Gold Trust (IAU, A) and Vanguard’s Emerging Markets ETF (VWO, A). The top performer of the year was the Latin America 40 Index Fund (ILF, A+), which gained 55% on the year.

2006: Bernanke Takes Over

With new Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke at the helm, global equity markets continued to push higher, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing above 12,000 for the first time ever in 2006. Wall Street also welcomed 155 new ETFs, including the popular Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG, A) and the Silver Trust (SLV, C+). 2006′s best performer was the Golden Dragon Halter USX China Portfolio (PGJ, B), which gained 53%, followed by strong performances by the MSCI Spain ETF (EWP, B) and the MSCI Mexico Capped ETF (EWW, A).

2007: The Housing Bubble Burst

By 2007, investors across the globe were well aware of the housing industry’s dire position, forcing mortgage companies to begin filing for bankruptcies and rating agencies to downgrade hundreds of mortgage-backed securities. Not surprisingly, the Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index Fund (ITB, A-) and the SPDR Homebuilders ETF (XHB, A+) were the worst performers in 2007, shedding roughly 50%. The MSCI India Index ETN (INP, C+), however, managed to come out on top, gaining 86% during the year.

2008: Financial Titans Begin To Fall

During 2008, Wall Street witnessed several financial titans, including Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Countrywide Financial, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Merril Lynch, fall, causing a ripple effect of catastrophic events to hit the financial system. The vast majority of ETFs saw negative annual returns, with the Ultra Financials (UYG, A-) and Ultra Real Estate (UYM, B+) funds hit hardest during the year. Most of the gainers of the year were highly leveraged and inverse funds, such as UltraShort Semiconductors(SSG, B-), UltraShort Technology (REW, B), and UltraShort Russell MidCap Growth (SDK, C+).

2009: Markets Finally Bottom

After suffering tremendous losses in 2008, global equity markets finally began to somewhat “recover.” In the ETF space, many funds were able to log in positive returns on the year, with the best performer being once again a leveraged fund: the Daily Technology Bull 3x Shares (TECL, B+), which managed to gain a whopping 240% during 2009. The DB Base Metals Double Long ETN (BDD, B) also had a strong performance, rising 228% during the year. The worst performer was the Daily Financial Bear 3X Shares (FAZ, C+), which shed 98%.

2010: Commodities Boom

While equity markets continued to trade sideways for the majority of the year, commodities came back into the spotlight, logging in noteworthy gains in 2010. The Ultra Silver Fund (AGQ, B) came out as 2010′s top performer, gaining 182% during the year. Among other noteworthy standouts were the Dow Jones-UBS Cotton Total Return Sub-Index ETN (BAL, B+), the Silver Trust (SLV, C+), and several other silver ETFs. 2010′s worst performer was the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX, A-), shedding 79% during the year.

2011: A Flat Finale

Amidst the eurozone crisis, a narrowly missed U.S. debt crisis, and continuing quantitative easing efforts, equity markets finished off 2011 essentially where they started. Investors flocked to their favorite safe-haven investment–U.S. Treasuries–which pushed the year’s top performer, the Ultra 20+ Year Treasury Fund (UBT, B) up 72% during the year. Other Treasury funds, including ZROZ, EDV, and DTYL also posted strong performances. Not surprisingly, the worst performer of the year was the Daily 20 Year Plus Treasury Bear 3x Shares (TMV, A-), which lost 69%. For the ETF industry, however, 2011 saw the most new launches, with a record-breaking 309 new funds hitting the market.

2012: Avoiding Fiscal Cliffs

Though global economic uncertainty and the U.S.’s looming “fiscal cliff” were points of concern for investors in 2012, equities still managed to log in relatively attractive gains during the year. The top performers of 2012 were the Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN (XIV, B+), which gained 155%, followed by the Short VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (SVXY, A-) and the DB 3x Italian Bond Treasury Bond Futures ETN (ITLT, A+). Landing at the bottom of the barrel were several volatility ETFs, including UVXY, TVIX, CVOL, and VXX.

2013: All Aboard the Bull Train

After a year where many questioned whether or not the bull run would continue, markets shattered all expectations. The SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY, A) turned in its second-best annual performance, jumping over 32%. The best performing ETF was the Daily Gold Miners Bear 3x Shares (DUST, B), which jumped 180%. The bottom of the pile was populated by volatility products once again, but the worst performing fund was the Dow Jones Emerging Markets Metals & Mining Titans Index Fund (EMT, B-), which lost nearly 100% of its value.