Although the S&P 500 has nearly tripled off the March 2009 lows, data indicate investors have displayed a distinct preference for value-oriented exchange traded funds over the growth equivalents. That despite the fact that growth stocks, some sporting rich valuations, have been significant contributors to the recent bull market in U.S. stocks.

Over the past five years, investors have poured “more than $16 billion to the 10 most popular value-oriented ETFs, versus $10 billion for growth,” reports Brendan Conway for Barron’s, citing XTF data.

Investors, some skittish following the global financial crisis, have embraced value sectors such as staples and utilities. Over the past three years, the Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLP) is up 63.2% while the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLU) has jumped nearly 40%. The Health Care Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLV) has surged a jaw-dropping 89%.

However, those gains have led to some frothy valuations in the staples and utilities sectors, groups usually viewed as value plays. [Playing Defense Isn’t Cheap]

Investors’ preference for value over growth is seen when comparing year-to-date inflows to some popular, diversified U.S. equity ETFs. The Vanguard Value ETF (NYSEArca: VTV) has raked in $2.77 billion compared to $1.54 billion for the Vanguard Growth ETF (NYSEArca: VUG). Investors have been rewarded for their faith in value stocks, at least as far as a head-to-head comparison of VTV and VUG is concerned. VTV has outpaced VUG this year by 360 basis points. [A Vanguard ETF That Values Growth]

When rallies in growth stocks end, they often do so in spectacular fashion and it can take a while, often a decade more, according to Barron’s, for growth to catchup with value. That could imply value is the way to continue playing upside in U.S. stocks.

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