A Mixed View of Discretionary ETFs

February 18th at 10:00am by Todd Shriber

After ranking at or near the top on the list of top-performing sector and industry exchange traded funds last year, consumer discretionary ETFs have struggled out of the gate in 2014. Even with the benefit of impressive bounces off their Feb. 3 lows, some well-known discretionary ETFs are still in the red year-to-date.

Early year struggles do not mean all is lost for discretionary ETFs, but investors considering these funds should be aware of important differences. For example, the Comcast’s (NasdaqGM: CMCSA) recently announced mega acquisition of rival Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) was thought to be a potential catalyst for discretionary ETFs.

In reality, a scant number of discretionary ETFs have decent exposure, and that is stretching things, to both stocks. The iShares US Consumer Services ETF (NYSEArca: IYC), as one example, allocates almost 7% of its combined weight to those two stocks, hardly enough to move the fund’s needle. [Time to Warm to Discretionary ETFs]

Investors should also consider the length of the discretionary sector’s out-peformance of the broader market. Consumer discretionary stocks have outperformed the S&P 1500 in each of the past six calendar years through 2013, according to S&P Capital IQ.

However, it is not always the same sub-industries providing leadership.

“In 2013, Internet Retail and Movies & Entertainment were among the better performers in the sector, but in 2012 it was Homebuilders and Cable & Satellite companies that were key drivers to the overall sector’s success. It’s up to the investor to determine whether to choose a diversification or a thematic strategy, but thanks to ETFs, there are lots of choices,” said S&P Capital IQ in a recent research note.

The research firm has an overweight rating on the largest discretionary ETF, the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR(NYSEArca: XLY). The $5.2 billion XLY was the top performer among the nine sector SPDR ETFs in 2013. XLY’s top three holdings, which combine for over 19% of the fund’s weight, are Comcast, Amazon (NasdaqGM: AMZN) and Dow component Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS).

S&P Capital IQ has a five-star rating on shares of Disney and a four-star rating on Comcast. Although XLY is up 1.6% in the past week, it is still down 2% this year. [Cyclical Sectors Could Lead Again in 2014]

The $191 million PowerShares Dynamic Leisure and Entertainment Portfolio (NYSEArca: PEJ), which was one of last year’s best sub-industry discretionary ETFs, draws a marketweight rating from S&P Capital IQ.

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