The S&P 500 is up nearly 19% year-to-date and in the world of exchange traded funds (ETFs), about 90% of those trading in the U.S. are in the green this year. In other words, stocks and ETFs that are slumping this year really standout and for all the wrong reasons.
To be fair to this year’s list of bad ETFs, many of these funds are leveraged products. Those funds are not intended to be held over many months and the longer leveraged funds, the better chances they deviate from the underlying investment objective and turn into bad ETFs.
In an additional effort to be fair, it should be noted that some of 2019’s currently bad ETFs do have the potential to get their respective acts together and join the pantheon of funds that are prospering.
Let’s have a look at some of this year’s supposedly bad ETFs to see which ones could see extended struggles and which ones could offer investors compelling opportunities.
Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (LIT)
Expense ratio: 0.75%
The Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (NYSEARCA:LIT) is down just 2.08% year-to-date, making it a “bad ETF” relative to the broader market, but there is some hope for a rebound here, particularly if Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) can continue bolstering the case for investors to consider the electric vehicle theme, the primary end market for lithium.
Home to nearly $530 million in assets under management, LIT tracks the Solactive Global Lithium Index and is one of the longest-running, most successful thematic ETFs. LIT has been a bad ETF this year in part because it has not been responsive to improve electric vehicle sales, a scenario that could reverse in LIT’s favor. Additionally, data suggest investors should buy into the notion that the lithium market is oversupplied.
“The possibility of an oversupply of lithium chemical is a myth, the president of California-based Global Lithium, Joe Lowry, said this week,” reports Valentina Ruiz for Mining.com. “Addressing the audience at the conference Paydirt 2019 Latin America Downunder, Lowry blamed the spread of such a ‘myth’ on ‘big bank’ analysts and the Chilean regulator CORFO. In Lowry’s view, there have been misunderstandings regarding CORFO’s reports related to its revised agreements allowing Albemarle and SQM to produce more material from the Atacama brine resource.”
Invesco Dynamic Energy Exploration & Production ETF (PXE)
Expense ratio: 0.65%
History continually shows that when it comes to bad ETFs, exploration and production funds, such as the Invesco Dynamic Energy Exploration & Production ETF (NYSEARCA:PXE) certainly fit that bill when oil prices decline. These funds are usually more volatile than their integrated oil peers and are more sensitive to crude’s price action in either direction.
Said another way, PXE and rival funds are bad ETFs when oil is falling and often good ETFs when the commodity rises. PXE is down almost 6% this year and while there are other funds with far worse performances, there are some warning signs to consider with this bad ETF.
For starters, losses are accelerating as about 80% of PXE’s year-to-date loss was accrued just last week. Additionally, the fund resides more than 42% below its 52-week high and almost 17% below its 200-day moving average. With oil scuffling and its technicals weak, PXE has many of the hallmarks of a bad ETF over the near-term.
First Trust Natural Gas ETF (FCG)
Expense ratio: 0.60%
Keeping with the theme of struggling energy ETFs, there is the First Trust Natural Gas ETF (NYSEARCA:FCG), which is historically a bad ETF. Making matters worse for FCG, this can be a bad ETF even when natural gas prices are rising.
How bad is this bad ETF? It’s lower by 44.28% over the past year while the largest equity-based energy ETF is lower by 16.46% over the same span. As is the case with the aforementioned PXE, FCG’s losses are accelerating. This bad ETF is lower by 11.56% this year after a 7.54% loss last week.
And like PXE, FCG’s technicals are horrendous. This bad ETF labors 23.49% below its 200-day moving average and has not closed above that technical indicate since last November. As we noted earlier, some of the bad ETFs highlighted here have the chance to be good funds down the road. It appears doubtful that will be true of FCG.
iShares MSCI Chile ETF (ECH)
Expense ratio: 0.59%
With Chile being the world’s largest lithium-producing nation, the iShares MSCI Chile ETF’s (NYSEARCA:ECH) status as a bad ETF is similar to that of LIT’s. That is to say, ECH isn’t a particularly bad as evidenced by a year-to-date loss of 1.69%. In addition to speculation that the lithium market is oversupplied, Chile’s economy is levered to another commodity.
The country is also the world’s top copper producer, meaning there are often tight connections between the strength of Chilean stocks and that of the Chinese economy. If the world’s second-largest economy slows, ECH is likely to labor in the bad ETF category. While ECH has the potential to shed that label, it may take a while because fund managers aren’t rushing to embrace Chilean equities.
“For Chilean stocks, Itau BBA sees little to be excited about given weak earnings momentum,” according to Bloomberg. “Even after a poor first half, the price-to-estimated-earnings ratio for stocks in the MSCI Chile Index is 15.7, the richest multiple in the region.”
iShares MSCI South Korea ETF (EWY)
Expense ratio: 0.59%
Down less than 1% year-to-date, the iShares MSCI South Korea ETF (NYSEARCA:EWY) is one of the best of the bad ETFs and could easily right its course to finish this year in the green. A good portion of EWY’s misfortunes this year are attributable to its position as a tech-heavy ETF and one that was stung by the US/China trade rift. Still, there is a lot to like with South Korean stocks.
“Korea’s sovereign ratings balance robust external finances and a strong macroeconomic performance with ongoing geopolitical risk from the relationship with North Korea, and longer-run challenges of rapid population ageing [sic] and low productivity,” said Fitch Ratings in a recent note.
EWY is one emerging markets ETF that could shed its bad ETF status if the Federal Reserve proceeds with cutting interest rates.
“A deeper rate cut by the Fed would weaken the dollar, providing a short-term momentum to South Korean stocks, said Ryoo Yong-seok, an analyst at KB Securities,” according to Reuters.
Global X Uranium ETF (URA)
Expense ratio: 0.69%
The Global X Uranium ETF (NYSEARCA:URA) has been around nearly nine years and has spent a considerable chunk of that time declining or stuck in a rut. Earlier this year, this bad ETF rallied, but has since given back nearly all of those gains. The uranium fund is down just 0.60% year-to-date, so there are definitely worse dogs out there, but the issues with this fund are how long it will be bad for and how trustworthy its rallies are.
In some states, there is political momentum against increased uranium mining. That said, the White House stands in favor of uranium production.
Domestic “uranium producers recoup a little of last Friday’s losses that followed reports Pres. Trump would decline to issue quotas for domestic uranium production, which the White House later confirmed,” according to Seeking Alpha.
Plus, there are strong long-term fundamentals underpinning URA because big developing markets like China and India are embracing uranium as a way of cutting down pollution. All of this is to say URA can easily shed its bad ETF status.
Invesco Dynamic Pharmaceuticals ETF (PJP)
Expense ratio: 0.57%
In an effort to end this piece on a positive note, we bring you a bad ETF that has the potential to be a legitimate rebound story: the Invesco Dynamic Pharmaceuticals ETF (NYSEARCA:PJP). As has been widely noted, pharmaceuticals stocks have been under intense politically-induced pressure this year, explaining why PJP is lower by 7.47%.
Large-cap pharmaceuticals names have endured a lot of that punishment, which has been bad news for PJP, an ETF where the 30 holdings have an average market value of $79 billion.
PJP’s underlying index “is designed to provide capital appreciation by thoroughly evaluating companies based on a variety of investment merit criteria, including: price momentum, earnings momentum, quality, management action, and value,” according to Invesco.
The healthcare sector has been a laggard this year, but the sector does not lack for supporters or those betting it will be a second-half rebound story. If pharmaceuticals stocks can stay out of the political limelight for awhile, PJP has all the makings of a redemption story.
Todd Shriber does not own any of the aforementioned securities.