U.S. stocks just faced their worst quarterly decline in two years, but somehow it feels like a relief that stocks weren’t down even more. The SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY)’s 4.6% decline during the first quarter of 2022 was its poorest showing since its 19.4% loss in the first quarter of 2020, a quarter in which stocks were ravaged during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While a 4.6% loss is nothing to cheer about in and of itself, it’s a big improvement from just a few weeks ago, when SPY was down more than 12% for the year. Stocks surged back during the second half of March despite continued concerns about rapid inflation, rising interest rates, spiking commodity prices and the Ukraine-Russia war.
None of those worries has gone away, making the comeback in SPY even more impressive (or confounding, depending on how you look at it).
Worst Quarter For ‘AGG’ Ever
Yet, as resilient as the broad stock market has been, that durability didn’t extend to all corners of financial markets. Fixed income, in particular, performed horribly during Q1. The iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG) dropped 5.8% during the period as rates surged (bond prices and yields move inversely). It was the biggest quarterly loss for AGG on record and the biggest quarterly loss for the ETF’s underlying index in four decades.
Other notable fixed income losers during the quarter included the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT), down 10.3%; the iShares iBoxx USD Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD), down 8.1%; and the SPDR Bloomberg High Yield Bond ETF (JNK), down 4.8%.
Disruptive Tech Pummeled
Hefty losses weren’t just contained to fixed income ETFs, either. While SPY and other broad stock market ETFs held up pretty well, pockets of the high-growth ETF universe crumbled.
The ARKK Innovation ETF (ARKK) was the second-worst-performing ETF of the quarter, with a loss of 29.9%. Only the AdvisorShares Psychedelics ETF (PSIL) did worse, shedding 31.7%. (Of course, if Russia ETFs like the VanEck Russia ETF (RSX) and the iShares MSCI Russia ETF (ERUS) were still around, they would have easily taken their place as worst-performing ETFs of the quarter; both were down around 80% before they stopped trading in March).
ETFs targeting many of the areas that were the hottest during the second half of 2020 and 2021 went ice cold in the early part of 2022. SPACs, IPOs, disruptive tech, biotech, meme stocks and others were down 20% or more. That said, the losses were much greater during mid-March; a sizably rally during the end of the month helped those ETFs pare some of their massive declines.
Commodity ETFs Surge
The majority of ETFs ended Q1 in the red, but around one in five ETFs finished the quarter with a positive return. Some even had significant gains—especially those tied to commodities.
Commodity prices were already rallying entering 2022, but they were turbocharged by supply disruptions caused by the Ukraine-Russian war.
Everything from oil to natural gas to nickel to wheat exploded to the upside. The top ETFs of Q1 were all commodity-related, including the iPath Series B Bloomberg Nickel Subindex Total Return ETN (JJN), the United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG) and the SPDR Oil & Gas Equipment & Services ETF (XES), each of which returned 56% or more.
You have to go to ETF No. 28 on the top performers list to see a fund not directly tied to commodities—the iShares MSCI Brazil ETF (EWZ), which rallied 39.4%. Though not a commodity ETF per se, with Brazil being a big producer of commodities, EWZ certainly benefited from the rise in raw materials prices during the quarter. That enabled it to sharply outperform other emerging markets like China and India, who are major importers of commodities.
The broad Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) slipped 6.5% during Q1.
For a list of the 20 best and worst performing ETFs of the first quarter, see the tables below:
Best Performing ETFs Of The Year (ex. leveraged/inverse funds)
Worst Performing ETFs Of The Year (ex. leveraged/inverse funds)
|PSIL||AdvisorShares Psychedelics ETF||-31.2%|
|ARKK||ARK Innovation ETF||-29.9%|
|ARKF||ARK Fintech Innovation ETF||-28.9%|
|PSY||Defiance Next Gen Altered Experience ETF||-28.8%|
|ITB||iShares U.S. Home Construction ETF||-28.5%|
|FDNI||First Trust Dow Jones International Internet ETF||-27.8%|
|BBC||Virtus LifeSci Biotech Clinical Trials ETF||-27.5%|
|DSPC||The De-SPAC ETF||-27.2%|
|EMFQ||Amplify Emerging Markets FinTech ETF||-26.9%|
|KFVG||KraneShares CICC China 5G and Semiconductor Index ETF||-26.6%|
|MRAD||SmartETFs Advertising & Marketing Technology Etf||-26.5%|
|ARKW||ARK Next Generation Internet ETF||-26.4%|
|XHB||SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF||-26.3%|
|MOON||Direxion Moonshot Innovators ETF||-25.8%|
|IBUY||Amplify Online Retail ETF||-25.4%|
|CHIK||Global X MSCI China Information Technology ETF||-25.4%|
|MSGR||Direxion mRNA ETF||-25.3%|
|ARKG||ARK Genomic Revolution ETF||-25.0%|
|HHH||ETFMG Real Estate Tech ETF||-24.8%|
|BUYZ||Franklin Disruptive Commerce ETF||-24.8%|
Note: Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through March 31, 2022.
Follow Sumit Roy on Twitter @sumitroy2