It was a great year for U.S. stocks, with the S&P 500 index gaining about 19% in 2017 thanks to pro-growth policies out of Washington and record consumer confidence.
But while buying the domestic stock market via exchange traded funds has been great for many investors, there are a bunch of high-flying ETFs out there that have delivered significantly bigger profits since Jan. 1.
Some of these ETFs are tactical investments on small parts of the American stock market. But others are international in flavor, playing the fastest-growing economies in the world.
Just because you’re getting nice returns in an S&P 500 index fund doesn’t mean it’s one of the best ETFs out there. Check out these 10 funds that prove it, putting up 50% gains or better — without aggressive leveraged strategies.
Best ETFs of 2017: Global X MSCI Argentina ETF (ARGT)
Many U.S. investors may not have noticed amid the bull market at home, but Argentina’s stock market has been setting record highs this year. In a nutshell, a surge of support for President Mauricio Macri’s reform agenda has been widely anticipated to reduce the burden on businesses in the nation and boost their profitability.
As such, the Global X MSCI Argentina ETF (NYSEARCA:ARGT) has had a great run of about 50% so far in 2017. Top holdings include Mercadolibre Inc (NASDAQ:MELI), which is often referred to as the Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) of Latin America, and global steel company Tenaris SA (ADR) (NYSE:TS) has big operations there that will benefit from a potential economic surge in the region.
Best ETFs of 2017: iShares MSCI Germany Small-Cap ETF (EWGS)
On the other side of the world, iShares MSCI Germany Small-Cap ETF (BATS:EWGS) is another top performer that has put up roughly 50% gains this year. This fund is focused on only up-and-coming German corporations, most of which aren’t even listed on U.S. stock exchanges.
Like Argentina, the hopes of stronger economic growth have buoyed the region’s stock market. That growth is much more modest on a relative basis, of course, with just 2% GDP expansion forecasted for 2017. But expectations haven’t been very high lately and the smaller companies in the region have responded remarkably well to the hopes of increased economic output.
Best ETFs of 2017: Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic ETF (BOTZ)
Technology that helps businesses operate more efficiently is a big part of the 21st century economy. And that has created a great tailwind for the twin trends of robotics and artificial intelligence. Automation processes help companies save time and money, and these services are increasingly in demand across all elements of the global economy.
The Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic ETF (NASDAQ:BOTZ) is a direct play on this trend, and it has surged 55% year-to-date in 2017 as a result. Its broad portfolio includes Japanese machine vision giant Keyence Corp. (OTCMKTS:KYCCF) and medical robotics company Intuitive Surgical, Inc. (NASDAQ:ISRG) among others.
Best ETFs of 2017: iShares Dow Jones US Home Const. ETF (ITB)
The U.S. housing market remains red hot as demand continues to outstrip supply and drive prices steadily higher. New home sales just hit the highest level since 2007, and homebuilder confidence is naturally soaring as a result.
Homebuilder stocks are also soaring, with names like D.R. Horton Inc (NYSE:DHI) up 80% since Jan. 1, and NVR, Inc. (NYSE:NVR) up over 100%. Both of those picks happen to be top holdings of the iShares Dow Jones US Home Const. ETF (BATS:ITB) too, which has enjoyed roughly 55% gains in 2017.
Best ETFs of 2017: PowerShares Golden Dragon China Portfolio (PGJ)
China stocks had been mostly stuck in a rut since 2013, as fears over slowing growth took their toll and investors happily plowed money into the surging U.S. market instead. But in 2017, the region got its mojo back as valuations looked attractive after a long period of underperformance. At the same time, fears of protectionist policies out of the White House that would depress trade have proven to be overblown.
The result has been a great run for many China-focused funds, with one of the top funds being the PowerShares Golden Dragon China Portfolio (NASDAQ:PGJ). Thanks to a bias towards tech firms in the region, with roughly half of the portfolio in stocks like internet giant Baidu Inc (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) or e-commerce firm JD.com Inc(ADR) (NASDAQ:JD), this ETF has surged about 55% this year.
Best ETFs of 2017: Global X Social Media Index ETF (SOCL)
The social media revolution is admittedly kind of old news, with Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) currently boasting more than 2 billion monthly users worldwide. But the growth in social media stocks isn’t coming from adoption anymore, but rather from the ability of these companies to make more profits off of their thriving businesses — and deliver big profits to shareholders as a result.
For investors looking to play this trend across the entire sector, the Global X Social Media Index ETF (NASDAQ:SOCL) provides a great way to access this potential. Holdings include established giants like Facebook as well as global players like China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd (OTCMKTS:TCEHY). Collectively, the picks have added up to 55% gains this year.
Best ETFs of 2017: VanEck Vectors India Small-Cap Index ETF (SCIF)
As with smaller stocks in Germany getting a tailwind from rosy economic outlooks in the area, the same is true for smaller stocks in India benefiting from growth predictions. With the world bank predicting roughly 7% GDP growth this year for the nation — bigger even than that of China — the publicly traded companies in this nation are looking up for obvious reasons.
That has created a great launching pad for the VanEck Vectors India Small-Cap Index ETF (NYSEARCA:SCIF). With 20% of the portfolio in consumer names and another 18% in financials, this diversified India fund is tailor made for a cyclical surge in this fast-growing part of the world. The ETF is up almost 60% so far this year as a result.
Best ETFs of 2017: Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (LIT)
From smartphones to electric vehicles, we are using more high-powered batteries in more high-tech applications with each passing day. That makes the Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (NYSEARCA:LIT) a perfect play on this trend.
From well-known names like tech giant Samsung to obscure plays like South American lithium producer Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (ADR) (NYSE:SQM), this unique ETF is designed to be a direct play on the business of batteries. And business is good, with the fund up about 60% so far in 2017.
Best ETFs of 2017: Emerging Markets Internet & Ecommerce ETF (EMQQ)
Another unstoppable growth trend across 2017 has been the continued expansion of the internet and e-commerce into all parts of the world. Yes, Amazon.com is dominant at home, but when you consider the untapped markets overseas it’s easy to understand the growth potential.
A direct play on this trend is the Emerging Markets Internet & Ecommerce ETF (NYSEARCA:EMQQ). Top holdings include the big names like Asia’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA), but also lesser known companies like Russia’s Yandex NV (OTCMKTS:YNDX). Thanks to big growth across the board for its constituent stocks, the EMQQ fund is up over 60% this year.
Best ETFs of 2017: VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term ETN (XIV)
While there have been a host of ways to profit from fast-growing stocks and powerful economic trends in 2017, there is also money to be made by tactically betting on the downside. Specifically, when the market is rising and investors are feeling confident, why not bet against the very idea of market negativity?
The CBOE Volatility Index, known by many investors by its ticker symbol VIX or more colloquially as the “fear index,” is a clear indication of market uncertainty. And as investors have been greeted by nearly non-stop gains, the VIX has been in free fall. Thankfully, the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term ETN (NASDAQ:XIV) is designed to profit from these declines by going up when the VIX goes down.
Non-stop declines in the fear index have meant non-stop gains for XIV, with profits of around 180% for those who bought this fund on Jan. 1.
As of this writing, Jeff Reeves did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.