It's been a good year for financial markets so far in 2016. After a bumpy start to the year, most major asset classes are up through the end of May, including stocks, bonds and commodities.
Even international stocks are hanging in there, with a slight gain for the year. As of this writing, the Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (VXUS | A-97) was up by 1.1% year-to-date.
U.S. stocks are doing a bit better―the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY | A-97) is up 3.5%. That's essentially the same return that bonds have given investors this year; the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG | A-98) gained 3.3% on the year.
Meanwhile, leading all asset classes are commodities. The iShares S&P GSCI Commodity Indexed Trust (GSG | C-91) rallied 8.4% through the first five months of the year.
YTD Returns For VXUS, SPY, AGG, GSG
Miners Dominate Top Performers List
The strong gains in commodities are thanks to a surprising rebound in the price of oil and gold. The United States Brent Oil Fund (BNO), for example, is up a cool 22.9% year-to-date, while the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD | A-100) is up about 14.4%.
But as impressive as the gains in those ETFs are, they aren't even close to the top of the heap. The top 10 nonleveraged/noninverse exchange-traded funds of the year all belong to a single group: gold and silver miners.
Miner ETFs, which had been beaten down for years amid falling gold prices and other industry-related woes, finally had things working in their favor when gold unexpectedly surged at the start of 2016.
Though concerns about mismanagement and high costs remain, for now, investors are looking past all that and seeing the industry as a leveraged bet on higher gold prices. With gold trending up, that's a bet that's paying off.
Returns Of 64% Or More
The threshold to be among the top-performing ETFs is high. Each of the top 10 has gains ranging from 64% to 131%, with the PureFunds ISE Junior Silver ETF (SILJ | F-64) at the top of the pack.
SILJ is a unique fund in that it targets small silver miners, a risky strategy that's worked well this year.
Another two silver miner ETFs, the iShares MSCI Global Silver Miners ETF (SLVP | B-99) and the Global X Silver Miners ETF (SIL | C-84), also made the list, with returns of close to 80%. That was enough to put them at the Nos. 3 and 4 spots, respectively.
SLVP and SIL hold a much broader basket of silver mining stocks than the small- and micro-cap-focused SILJ.
Gold Miners Round Out Top 10
Aside from the trio of silver miner ETFs, the rest of the top 10 are all focused on gold miners. That includes the Global X Gold Explorers ETF (GLDX | D-42), which jumped 87.4%, putting it at No. 2 on the list.
GLDX focuses on gold explorers, which are typically small firms involved in the earliest stages of the business.
The lowest-cost fund in the gold miner ETF segment also made the list, at No. 6: the iShares MSCI Global Gold Miners ETF (RING | B-99), up 75.9%. So too did the largest and most liquid gold miner fund, the VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX | C-75), at No. 8, with a 64.6% return.
Top 10 ETFs Through May 31, 2016
|Ticker||Fund Name||YTD Return (%)|
|SILJ||PureFunds ISE Junior Silver (Small Cap Miners/Explorers) ETF||130.97|
|GLDX||Global X Gold Explorers ETF||87.40|
|SLVP||iShares MSCI Global Silver Miners ETF||82.74|
|SIL||Global X Silver Miners ETF||79.25|
|GDXJ||VanEck Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF||75.95|
|RING||iShares MSCI Global Gold Miners ETF||75.91|
|SGDJ||Sprott Junior Gold Miners ETF||71.24|
|GDX||VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF||64.58|
|PSAU||PowerShares Global Gold & Precious Metals Portfolio||64.26|
|SGDM||Sprott Gold Miners ETF||64.02|