ETF Trends
ETF Trends

The consumer discretionary sector’s 2014 tale of woe has been discussed aplenty this year. To make a long story short, the sector, which had been a consistent leader over the three years ending 2013, is the worst performer in the S&P 500 this year.

Identifying the sector’s offenders is not difficult. Stocks such as Amazon (NasdaqGS: AMZN) have been problematic for traditional consumer discretionary exchange traded funds. Home Depot (NYSE: HD), another mainstay in many discretionary ETFs, is one of the worst-performing stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average this year. [Discreet Decline of Discretionary ETFs]

To be fair, the likes of the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLY) and the Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF (NYSEArca: VCR) have recently been showing signs of life. The two have an average year-to-date gain of just 2%, but are up an average of nearly 3% in just the past month. [Discretionary ETFs Show Signs of Life]

If the sector’s rebound is legitimate, another ETF to consider is the First Trust Consumer Discretionary AlphaDEX Fund (NYSEArca: FXD). Just over 35 ETFs have made new all-time highs at this point in Wednesday’s trading session. FXD is one of them. The ETF is up 4.5% this year, easily outpacing its cap-weighted rivals.

FXD uses the AlphaDEX methodology that has helped make First Trust one of the fastest growing U.S. ETF sponsors. As with the other AlphaDEX sector ETFs, FXD’s holdings are selected based on “growth factors including 3-, 6- and 12-month price appreciation, sales to price and one year sales growth, and separately on value factors including book value to price, cash flow to price and return on assets,” according to First Trust.

FXD also does not allocate more than 1.5% of its weight to any of its 137 holdings, which diminishes the vulnerability to laggard performance by some of the discretionary sector’s marquee names such as Amazon and Home Depot.

That is not to say FXD is free of drawbacks. The fund can be used as a case study in proving the notion there is no such thing as a “perfect ETF.” FXD’s underlying index, the StrataQuant Consumer Discretionary Index, has outperformed the S&P 500 Consumer Discretionary Index by 200 basis points over the past five years, according to First Trust data. However, FXD’s three-year standard deviation is nearly 300 basis points higher than the S&P 500 Consumer Discretionary Index over the past three years. [How Smart Beta ETFs Compare to Traditional Rivals]

FXD does, however, offer tactical advantages and those advantages could shine bright if the consumer discretionary sector rebounds in earnest. Those advantages include a median market value of $8.9 billion among its holdings and a 13.3% weight to media stocks.

The market value trait could prove important if mid- and small-cap discretionary stocks establish leadership roles. As for the media exposure, media names have been beaten up this year, but it is worth noting a rebound is materializing for that sub-sector as the PowerShares Dynamic Media Portfolio (NYSEArca: PBS) is up 5.5% in the past month.

First Trust Consumer Discretionary AlphaDEX Fund

Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of Amazon.