Rate-Sensitive ETFs at Critical Junctures

Ten-year Treasury yields have tumbled another 13.3% to start 2015 after falling 27.3% last year. Predictably, the ongoing declines in U.S. government bond yields has continued being a boon for some beloved, rate-sensitive exchange traded funds.

Entering Thursday, the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEArca: TLT) and the iShares Dow Jones US Real Estate Index Fund (NYSEArca: IYR) were up 5.9% and 5.3%, respectively, to start 2015. Those stout performances come after TLT jumped 27.3% last year while IYR gained 26.7%. In the case of TLT, the longer-dated bond ETF more than doubled the returns of the S&P 500 last year. [Treasury ETFs Flex Their Muscles]

Other rate-sensitive ETFs are off to stellar starts in 2015 as well with the Vanguard REIT ETF (NYSEArca: VNQ) and the SPDR Dow Jones REIT ETF (NYSEArca: RWR) each up nearly 7% after posting an average 2014 gain north of 31%.

Some may be concerned that REITs are sensitive to changes in interest rates. Notably, the fall in interest rates have made the asset more attractive as a yield-generating alternative, but some fear the asset will fall out of favor once rates rise. [REIT ETFs Keep Soaring]

To that point, TLT and IYR are bumping against multi-year resistance and what the ETFs do from here could be a signal regarding markets’ interest rate expectations, according to Chris Kimble of Kimble Charting Solutions.

The same can be said of the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLU). XLU’s start to 2015 is more tame than that of REIT ETFs or TLT, but a 4.2% gain is still nothing to scoff at. Remember, that comes after XLU, the largest utilities ETF, climbed almost 29% last year, making it the best performer among the nine sector SPDR ETFs.