[Editor’s Note: This article was one of ETF.com's most popular of 2021.]
After equity markets saw strong gains through the first half of the year, the market took a pause in the third quarter. Large cap equities, as represented by the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) were able to eke out a slight gain of 0.6% for the quarter. Small cap equities, as represented by the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) fared worse, down by 4.3% during the quarter.
After slumping through the first two months of the quarter, the energy sector surged in mid to late September, keeping energy names atop the best performers list for yet another quarter. Energy and natural gas funds make up 15 of the top 20 best-performing ETFs for the year.
Best-Performing ETFs Of 2021 (Ex. Leveraged/Inverse)
Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through Sept. 30, 2021.
Natural Gas Booms
Natural gas prices in the U.S. have more than doubled since this time last year. Demand for the fuel has accelerated as economies around the world recover from the pandemic. The supply side is also squeezed, with inventories depleted after Hurricane Ida negatively impacted production.
Natural gas ETPs make up four of the top 20 names. The United States Natural Gas Fund LP (UNG) is the second-best-performing ETF of the year, gaining 119%. The iPath Series B Bloomberg Natural Gas Subindex Total Return ETN (GAZ) has also notched triple digit gains, up 112% for the year.
More broad-based energy funds also made the list. The Invesco Dynamic Energy Exploration & Production ETF (PXE) focuses on companies involved in the exploration and production of oil and gas. The fund is up 88% for the year.
Several carbon credit funds also made the list. The iPath Series B Carbon ETN (GRN) and the KraneShares Global Carbon ETF (KRBN) invest in the global carbon credit market and were up 89% and 67%, respectively.
Reddit Fuels Uranium Surge
A new addition to the best-performers list is the North Shore Global Uranium Mining ETF (URNM). This ETF tracks a market-cap-weighted index of global companies in the uranium industry and has gained nearly 80% for the year.
The ETF went nuclear in August and early September after becoming the latest target for Reddit traders. However, there is also rising demand for the metal due to growing support for nuclear energy as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.
Shipping Stays On Top
Remaining at the top of the list once again is the Breakwave Dry Bulk Shipping ETF (BDRY). This fund tracks an index of long-only exposure of dry bulk freight futures contracts and is up 368% through the end of the third quarter.
This fund’s performance has been driven by supply chain inefficiencies that have caused the cost of ocean freight to increase at an exponential rate. Container freight rates are up by over 350% from this time last year, according to data from the Drewry World Container Index.