Anyone who’s been paying attention to the stock market knows utilities have been the place to be this year. Most of the indexes tracking U.S. utilities are up more than 20% this year, handily beating the broad market, which is up 6.5% as of July 13.
Low interest rates have been cited as a key reason for utilities' outperformance, along with a general tendency toward safe-haven assets on the part of investors so far in 2016.
16 Total Utility ETFs
As a safe, relatively predictable industry, there aren't many surprises when it comes to utilities, and that goes for utility ETFs as well. Exchange-traded funds tied to the sector are broadly higher, as can be expected, but there isn't much differentiation among the funds compared with what you might see in other sectors.
There are currently 16 utilities-focused ETFs listed in the ETF.com Utilities channel. With the exception of one that is down 35.1%―the ProShares UltraShort Utilities ETF (SDP)―an inverse product―they're all up so far this year.
SDP's counterpart, the ProShares Ultra Utilities ETF (UPW)―a 2x-leveraged product―is the top performer in the space, with a gain of 45.7%
US-Focused Utilities ETFs
After UPW, there are nine U.S.-focused utilities ETFs all clustered together, with returns of 21% to 24%. Of these nine, four of them offer broad, large-cap-heavy exposure to the sector.
These include the Vanguard Utilities Index Fund (VPU | A-95), the iShares U.S. Utilities ETF (IDU | A-93), the Fidelity MSCI Utilities Index ETF (FUTY | A-94) and the Utilities Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLU | A-89).
Meanwhile, the Guggenheim S&P 500 Equal Weight Utilities ETF (RYU | A-86) and the PowerShares S&P SmallCap Utilities Portfolio (PSCU | A-31) tilt their exposure toward smaller-cap firms. RYU does this by equal-weighting utilities stocks within the S&P 500, while PSCU does this by holding stocks in the S&P Small Cap 600 and market-cap-weighting them.
Another pair of utilities ETFs, the PowerShares DWA Utilities Momentum Portfolio (PUI | B-84) and the First Trust Utilities AlphaDex Fund (FXU | B-82), add their own twist to the sector by weighting their holdings based on fundamental factors. DWA focuses on firms with price momentum, while FXU focuses on value and growth factors.
Incidentally, two new ETFs that launched this year, the John Hancock Multifactor Utilities ETF (JHMU) and the iShares Edge MSCI Multifactor Utilities ETF (UTLF), also focus on factors. JHMU weights its holdings based on size, value, momentum and profitability. UTLF weights them based on size, value, momentum and quality.
Perhaps the most unique utility ETF of the bunch is the Reaves Utilities ETF (UTES | D-79). It's the only actively managed utility ETF fund on the market, and it’s easily kept pace with its passive ETF counterparts despite the largest expense ratio in the segment.