Low-volatility ETFs were outperforming in 2013 until mid-April when cyclical sectors took over the leadership from stable, dividend-paying sectors.

Recently, so-called high-beta ETFs are beating low-volatility strategies.

For example, PowerShares S&P 500 High Beta (NYSEArca: SPHB) is up 15.3% the past month to nearly double the 7.7% gain posted by the S&P 500, according to Morningstar. [Are High-Beta Funds the Next Low-Volatility ETFs?]

PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility (NYSEArca: SPLV) has delivered a total return of just 3.8% over the same period. A major headwind has been the lagging performance of utilities, the worst-performing sector since mid-April. The low-volatility ETF has 28.6% in utilities, its largest sector allocation. [ETF Chart of the Day: Utilities Sector]

Beta is a measure of how closely correlated a stock’s returns are to that of the market. The market has a beta of 1.0, and stocks with a beta of more than 1.0 are more volatile than the market. Conversely, SPLV consists of the 100 stocks from the S&P 500 with the lowest realized volatility over the past 12 months.

Next page: High-beta ‘poised to pop?’