Lately the news has been so back and forth, so uncertain, that investors could be forgiven for being scared to make new stock picks. Luckily, our experts are here to help, with their exchange-traded fund picks for the Best ETFs for 2019 contest.
ETFs have some advantages and some disadvantages when compared to individual stocks. When a stock makes a big run, funds that hold it can only capture a percent of that gain since its allotments to other stocks aren’t gaining as much. But on the flip side, the ETF also won’t feel the full pain of a big drop in a particular stock. And while you have expenses to pay on your average ETF, they inherently offer you diversification — an important aspect of most portfolios.
As for what our experts picked this year, there were no solid themes. A few people zeroed in on tech stocks. Others looked overseas — there are two emerging markets and one Mexico ETF in this year’s contest. One sought safety in gold while others banked on the ubiquitous need for healthcare or clean drinking water. And some looked outside the norm, to homebuilders or finance.
It’s a wide-open field, and as we approach Jan. 1, there’s no telling whose pick is going to rise to the top. What do you think?
In alphabetical order, our 10 entries are:
Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic ETF (BOTZ)
Investor: Tom Taulli
Expense Ratio: 0.68%
For investors who think the next big thing in tech could also be the next big thing for ETFs, take a look at Tom Taulli’s pick of Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic ETF (NASDAQ:BOTZ).
BOTZ focuses on AI and robotics, two sectors that can be intimidating to invest in via individual stocks. BOTZ makes it easier and safer.
Robotics is definitely a huge opportunity. As Taulli writes, “According to IDC, the spending on robotics and drones is forecasted to rise by 17.6% this year to $115.7 billion. By 2022, the market is projected to hit $210.3 billion. That should make funds in this area strong contenders for the Best ETFs title.”
As Taulli also points out, some people may not be aware of just how ubiquitous AI is and how widely it reaches. “The applications for AI are also extensive, he writes. “They cover industries like autos, healthcare, agriculture, military and manufacturing.”
And these massive growth opportunities could help the BOTZ ETF win the Best ETFs for 2019 contest.
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM)
Investor: Readers’ Choice
Expense Ratio: 0.69%
The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEARCA:EEM) embraces the world of emerging markets, with a particular focus on China.
That might seem like a pretty bad idea given the current trade unrest between China and the United States, but it’s important to remember that the two countries keep coming together in an effort to find an end to the trade war. And in the meantime, a number of truly excellent Chinese stocks have gotten beaten down far more than they deserved.
These are big, well-established companies. As I recently wrote, “the average market cap of stocks in the fund is around $29 billion, with more than half of the holdings being considered ‘giant’ by market cap according to Morningstar. Mid-cap stocks make up only about 10% of the overall holdings.”
Sure, this is largely contingent on the trade war ending, but I don’t think that’s too unlikely a bet!
iShares Mexico MSCI ETF (EWW)
Investor: Ian Bezek
Expense Ratio: 0.49%
The Mexico iShares MSCI ETF (NYSEARCA:EWW) is betting on big growth in — you guessed it — Mexico for 2019.
While Mexico has not been as targeted in the headlines as areas like China, Mexican stocks are still looking rough for 2018. As Bezek put it, “Selling has been particularly harsh over the past month. EWW stock is now down 30% from its October high and has dropped 20% year-to-date.”
But the selling may be overdone. It seems to be based more on headline worries and uncertainty over new Mexican leadership in the form of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In the meantime, Bezek points out that Mexico’s “GDP has now grown at a 2.7% annualized rate, with the economy’s largest sector, services, up more than 3%.”
And if Mexico’s economy can stay solid, the EWW ETF should rise as worries fade.
SPDR Gold Trust (GLD)
Investor: Kent Thune
Expense Ratio: 0.4%
For investors looking for a safe place to hide in case of further market weakness, and especially economic weakness, the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSEARCA:GLD) is a solid choice.
As Thune points out, “The worst enemy of the equity investor is uncertainty, which leads to volatility and downside pressure. As uncertainty increases, so does the demand for perceived safety, which often leads to higher demand (and prices) for gold.”
But that’s not the only reason to consider this liquid gold fund. Smart money indicates that gold may be near a bottom, and an agreement with China and the U.S. could increase downside pressure on the U.S. dollar, thereby increasing how attractive investors find gold to be.
All in all, GLD has plenty to recommend it in this year’s Best ETFs contest.
iShares Emerging Markets ETF (IEMG)
Investor: Jim Woods
Expense Ratio: 0.14%
The iShares Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEARCA:IEMG) has had a rough 2018, down 16%. And is anyone really surprised? International unrest has plenty of international funds shaking their heads and hoping for solid ground to return.
But just as with EEM, the beatdown may just have given IEMG more room to run. As Woods wrote, “strong anticipated growth in earnings-per-share over the next year, along with what has now become a very attractive price-to-earnings ratio of 12.1 according to the latest figures from iShares, make IEMG a very attractive play here for investors with a 12-month time horizon.”
And the IEMG ETF dips into the mid- and small-cap worlds as well — where the gains can be even more precipitous. All in all, there’s a good possibility for IEMG to nab the Best ETFs crown.
iShares US Helathcare Providers ETF (IHF)
Investor: Todd Shriber
Expense Ratio: 0.43%
Unlike a lot of the funds on this list, one of the risks facing the iShares US Helathcare Providers ETF (NYSEARCA:IHF) may be that it has outperformed so well recently. As Shriber points out, “IHF is in the midst of a lengthy period of out-performance. Specifically, for the past 36 months, IHF has outpaced the S&P 500 Health Care Index by a whopping 2,000 basis points.” Even the recent weakness has brought it to “only” 7% gains for the year.
So could that mean it’s overextended? Possibly, but the fundamentals seem to support these prices.
Again, letting Shriber say it himself, “Late last month, UnitedHealth, IHF’s largest holding, boosted its full-year 2019 earnings forecast to $14.40 to $14.70 per share on revenue of $243 billion to $254 billion. Wall Street expected earnings of $14.58 a share on revenue of $244.26 billion.”
IHF could very well continue its outperformance and win the Best ETFs for 2019 contest.
iShares US Home Construction ETF (ITB)
Investor: Vince Martin
Expense Ratio: 0.43%
Housing stocks have not escaped the late-year pain in 2018 — far from it. Vince Martin’s pick of the iShares US Home Construction ETF (BATS:ITB) hopes that the trend will be turning around next year, however.
First, like many of the funds on this list, ITB faces issues stemming from the U.S./China trade war. A resolution on that front would help a lot. And while riding interest rates are not great for home sales, there has been something of an uptick in new home starts.
As Martin admits, “The argument for ITB, at this point, is almost purely contrarian. Again, homebuilders, in particular, have had a brutal year.” But the fundamentals are there, and if things fall its way, ITB could take the Best ETFs crown.
Invesco Water Resources ETF (PHO)
Investor: James Brumley
Expense Ratio: 0.62%
The Invesco Water Resources ETF (NASDAQ:PHO) is a fund that helps investors key in on a growing and vital crisis — a shortage of clean drinking water.
Clean water is already a severe problem in parts of the United States right now, and it is only projected to get worse in the coming years. And while PHO may not be an exciting name, it is grounded in the companies that help move, test and clean water.
“These are the best ways to tap into the water problem most consumers and investors in the United States still don’t fully appreciate,” Brumley wrote, pointing out how much water is wasted right under our noses every year. Saving and cleaning water will only get more important, and the PHO fund focuses on the companies that can help.
Pacer Benchmark Data & Infrastructure Real Estate ETF (SRVR)
Investor: Robert Waldo
Expense Ratio: 0.6%
The Pacer Benchmark Data & Infrastructure Real Estate ETF (NYSEARCA:SRVR) is a bit more specific than a lot of the options on this list. It plays on the growth of 5G, but maybe not in the way you might expect.
According to Waldo: “As its name implies, this real estate investment trust (REIT) ETF focuses on the data and infrastructure space. In plain English, that means it allows investors to tap into real estate opportunities that will play a key role in the rollout of 5G, which is expected to start in full force in 2019.”
SRVR is a play on all the infrastructure that will make 5G a reality in the near future. It’s focused on the towers where antennae will go. It’s in the data centers. It’s in everything needed to make 5G go.
And it could be going to the top of our Best ETFs contest in 2019.
Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF)
Investor: Dana Blankenhorn
Expense Ratio: 0.13%
The Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (NYSEARCA:XLF), Dana Blankenhorn’s pick for the Best ETFs for 2019 contest, does just what it says on the box — it focuses on banking and related sectors.
So why is that a good idea right now? Well, the companies that XLF invests in are big, stable companies which are prepared for if things take a turn for the worst. It holds almost exclusively large-cap companies with solid footing.
And why the XLF ETF? As Blankenhorn put it, “It’s because America’s biggest banks are the strongest banks in the world. It’s because they were the center of the last crisis and were then forced to pass ‘stress tests’ against potential losses through the Federal Reserve. It’s because America’s biggest banks can weather big storms.”
So even if the markets turn sour, the XLF ETF may be able to hold its own.
Jessica Loder is an assistant editor at InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, she did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.