Retail ETF Returns Reflect Industry Upheaval

May 15, 2017

Some 20 years ago, a low rumbling of change began to build in the retail industry. Remember when Amazon, despite losing billions of dollars a year, started to eat the market-share lunch of bookstores?

There was clear disruption going on, but really in a small material way back then. However, there were those who saw the future, and extrapolated that what Amazon was doing to bookstores would happen across retail. Many scoffed.

Today you would hear those same scoffs if you didn’t believe that online retailers—and in particular Amazon—were not just overtaking brick-and-mortar stores who ignored the groundswell of change for years and years, but decimating them.

Divergence In Sales

Consider this: Brick-and-mortar revenue in 2016 was down $7.3 billion from 2000 levels, while online shopping revenue was higher by $35 billion last year compared to 2000.

On top of losing market share, many traditional retailers are regulars in bankruptcy court. Nearly a dozen national retailers filed for bankruptcy this year—on pace to exceed 2009, when 18 major retailers closed their doors during the worst days of the financial crisis.

First-quarter earnings released in recent weeks further confirmed what we already knew: Things are getting worse, not better, for the old retail guard.

While Amazon hit another quarterly home run, some of the country’s largest retailers—like Macy’s—were swinging and missing on earnings and revenue as they have been for a while. Store closure announcements followed. Macy’s alone is shutting down some 50 stores this year after disappointing results.

Upheaval In Retail ETF World Too

Retail is really a consumer subsector, so when it comes to ETF options, there’s not a lot to choose from. The retail ETF channel displays only six retail ETFs listed in the U.S., and one is a leveraged fund, the $30 million Direxion Daily Retail Bull 3x Shares (RETL), which is down 10.6% this year.

Out of the other five, three offer exposure to U.S. retailers:

  • SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT): The 11-year-old fund is the biggest of all of them, with $397 million in assets under management, and equal-weights its U.S. components.
  • PowerShares Dynamic Retail Portfolio (PMR): This fund is actually older than XRT, but has a mere $14 million. It tracks a multifactor, tiered equal-weighted index of U.S. retail stocks.
  • First Trust Nasdaq Retail ETF (FTXD): FTXD tracks a liquidity-selected, multifactor-weighted index of U.S. retail companies that launched eight months ago and has $2 million in assets.

The other two focus on global retailers:

Let’s look at the year-to-date tape:

Chart courtesy of


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