Top Performing ETFs Of The Year

The top-performing ETFs of Q1 2019 had gains ranging from 28% all the way up to 103%.

Reviewed by: Sumit Roy
Edited by: Sumit Roy

A tumultuous end to 2018 didn’t carry over into 2019. So far this year, it’s been smooth sailing for global stocks, as the MSCI ACWI Index surged by 12.3% during the first quarter.

It was the best quarter for the index—which tracks developed and emerging market stocks—since the third quarter of 2010. U.S. stocks, as measured by the S&P 500, did even better, rising 13.6% for their best quarterly showing since 2009’s third quarter.Granted, global stock markets are still off their highs from last year, but investors are no doubt reassured by the fact that equities have climbed so strongly in the face of ongoing concerns about sliding earnings, slowing economic growth, trade wars and Brexit.

Pot On Top

The best showing for global stocks in nearly a decade boded well for exchange-traded funds. Many ETFs registered sizzling gains during the first three months of the year, including four leveraged products that more than doubled.

We’ll get to those later, but first we’ll run down the top-performing ETFs of the year that delivered their gains without using leverage of any kind. Inverse products are also excluded from this list.

Top Performing ETFs Of The Year (excluding leveraged/inverse)

Ticker Fund YTD Return (%)
MJ ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF 46.30
CNXT VanEck Vectors ChinaAMC SME-ChiNext ETF 38.48
ARKG ARK Genomic Revolution Multi-Sector ETF 37.11
ASHS  Xtrackers Harvest CSI 500 China A-Shares Small Cap ETF 35.02
BCNA  Reality Shares Nasdaq Nexgen Economy China ETF 33.44
XINA SPDR MSCI China A Shares IMI ETF 32.12
PEK  VanEck Vectors ChinaAMC CSI 300 ETF USD 31.71
USOI  Credit Suisse X-Links Crude Oil Shares Covered Call ETN 31.53
IPO  Renaissance IPO ETF 31.42
CHIK  Global X MSCI China Information Technology ETF 31.24
ASHR  Xtrackers Harvest CSI 300 China A-Shares ETF 31.01
KBA  KraneShares Bosera MSCI China A Share ETF 30.38
CNYA  iShares MSCI China A ETF 30.05
CHIS  Global X MSCI China Consumer Staples ETF 30.01
ASHX  Xtrackers MSCI China A Inclusion Equity ETF 29.85
USO  United States Oil Fund LP 29.40
OILX  ETRACS S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return Index ETN 29.26
PTF Invesco DWA Technology Momentum ETF 28.73
SBIO  ALPS Medical Breakthroughs ETF 28.57
CHIQ Global X MSCI China Consumer Discretionary ETF 28.53

Note: Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through March 29.


Easily taking the No. 1 position is the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (MJ). The only U.S.-listed ETF focused on cannabis stocks, investors holding the fund in Q1 were rewarded with a whopping 46.3% gain.

The marijuana ETF is notoriously volatile. The Q1 surge only puts it back to where it was trading last October.

China ETFs Dominate

MJ may have been the top-performing ETF of the first quarter, but another group of funds was arguably more dominant. Consider this: Of the top 20 funds of the year, 12 are China-related, and each has gains of more than 28.5%.

It’s no secret 2018 was a horrible year for Chinese stocks. Down nearly a third from peak to trough, all seemed dire for the country’s equities as recently as December. Economic growth was rapidly slowing and a full-blown trade war with the U.S. was raging.

But just as quickly as they fell, Chinese stocks rebounded. During the first quarter of 2019, investors grew increasingly confident that the U.S. and China would strike a deal to end their trade war. That deal has yet to be finalized, but most people remain optimistic that it’s coming soon.

Stimulus measures from the Chinese government also raised hopes that the slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy could be managed.

Of course, China isn’t out of the woods yet and risks remain. But at least for now, investors are choosing to see the glass as half full for the country and its stock market. Funds like the VanEck Vectors ChinaAMC SME-ChiNext ETF (CNXT), the Xtrackers Harvest CSI 500 China A-Shares Small Cap ETF (ASHS) and the Reality Shares Nasdaq NexGen Economy China ETF (BCNA) are among the top-performing China ETFs so far this year.

Biotech & Oil ETFs

Outside of marijuana and China, other ETFs working well this year are a pair of health care funds, a trio of crude oil ETPs and one IPO product.

The ARK Genomic Revolution ETF (ARKG) and the ALPS Medical Breakthroughs ETF (SBIO) are the outperforming health care funds. Both products are heavily weighted in biotech stocks, which have outperformed this year, even as the broader health care sector has lagged the S&P 500.

Meanwhile, the United States Oil Fund (USO), the ETRACS S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return Index ETN (OILX) and the Credit Suisse X-Links Crude Oil Shares Covered Call ETN (USOI) are oil-tracking products that have delivered handsome gains this year as crude oil prices rallied.

Starting in January, the oil cartel OPEC cut production to tighten the market and lift oil prices. So far, the move has paid off.

Leveraged Oil ETPs Double

As promised, we’ll now take a look at the list of top-performing ETFs of the year that includes leveraged and inverse funds. Including the more volatile leveraged and inverse products results in a completely different set of names, headlined by the VelocityShares 3x Long Crude Oil ETN (UWT) and its 103.2% return.

Several other crude oil products joins that ETN among the top 20. See the table below for the full list:


Top-Performing ETFs Of The Year (all-encompassing)

Ticker Fund YTD Return (%)
UWT  VelocityShares 3x Long Crude Oil ETN 103.15
USOU  United States 3x Oil Fund 102.20
WTIU  UBS ETRACS - ProShares Daily 3x Long Crude ETN 100.90
OILU ProShares UltraPro 3x Crude Oil ETF 100.22
LABU  Direxion Daily S&P Biotech Bull 3X Shares 82.55
CHAU  Direxion Daily CSI 300 China A Share Bull 2X Shares 67.05
SOXL  Direxion Daily Semiconductor Bull 3x Shares 65.36
UBOT Direxion Daily Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Auto Bull 3X 63.63
TECL  Direxion Daily Technology Bull 3x Shares 63.61
UCO  ProShares Ultra Bloomberg Crude Oil 61.88
DUSL Direxion Daily Industrials Bull 3X Shares 57.30
NAIL  Direxion Daily Homebuilders & Supplies Bull 3X Shares 56.13
FNGU  MicroSectors FANG+ Index 3X Leveraged ETN 54.96
DRN  Direxion Daily Real Estate Bull 3x Shares 53.40
TQQQ ProShares UltraPro QQQ 53.02
GASL  Direxion Daily Natural Gas Related Bull 3x Shares 52.63
CWEB  Direxion Daily CSI China Internet Index Bull 2x Shares 52.49
WANT  Direxion Daily Consumer Discretionary Bull 3x Shares 50.71
ERX  Direxion Daily Energy Bull 3x Shares 50.67
DFEN  Direxion Daily Aerospace & Defense Bull 3X Shares 49.82

Note: Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through March 29.


Email Sumit Roy at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter sumitroy2

Sumit Roy is the senior ETF analyst for, where he's worked for 12 years. Before joining the company, Roy was the managing editor and commodities analyst for Hard Assets Investor. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys climbing the city’s steep hills, playing pickleball and snowboarding.