Just a few months after wrapping up 2014 with a nearly 29% gain, good enough to make it the best of the nine sector SPDR exchange traded funds, the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLU) is saddled with a 6% year-to-date loss.

That makes XLU, the largest utilities ETF by assets, this year’s worst performer among the nine SPDRs. XLU’s struggles, and those of rival utilities ETFs, underscore the notion that rate sensitivity for select asset classes is a legitimate concern at a time when so many market observers cannot resist the temptation of saying 2015 will finally be the year the Federal Reserve raises interest rates. [Rate-Sensitive ETFs get Jammed Up]

Still, 10-year yields Treasury yields have traded slightly lower this year, but there is a case for embracing utilities and ETFs like XLU on the basis of steady earnings growth despite the sector’s slow-growth reputation.

“Many view utilities as a no-growth business given little change in U.S. electricity consumption in recent years. However, earnings growth has averaged 4% annually in the past decade and profits could grow at a similar rate in coming years as utilities upgrade or replace aging transmission lines and power plants. Much of the U.S. utility infrastructure is more than 40 years old,” reports Andrew Bary for Barron’s.

The $6 billion XLU yields almost 3.5%, the highest among the nine sector SPDRs, and several of the ETF’s largest holdings yield more than 4%. That is the case for Southern Co. (NYSE: SO), Consolidated Edison (NYSE: ED) and Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK). That trio combines for nearly 20% of XLU’s weight.