Best Performing ETFs Of 2019

The top ETFs of 2019 surged by more than 50%.

sumit
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Senior ETF Analyst
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Reviewed by: Sumit Roy
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Edited by: Sumit Roy

By now, most investors are well aware that 2019 will go down in the history books as one of the best years ever for financial markets. When all was said and done, U.S. equities delivered their best return in six years, and U.S. bonds had their best showing in 17 years.

The $306 billion SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), the world’s largest equity ETFs, gained 31.2% on the year. At the same time, the biggest bond ETF, the $69 billion iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG), jumped 8.5%.

These are outstanding returns for vanilla, broad market funds. Of course, in a year of such phenomenal performance by these plain, index-tracking products, you might guess that more focused funds have done even better—and you’d be right.

Last year’s top 20 ETFs each saw gains of 50% or more. That’s not even including the leveraged products out there, like the Direxion Daily Semiconductor Bull 3X Shares (SOXL), the Direxion Daily Technology Bull 3X Shares (TECL) or the Direxion Daily Homebuilders & Supplies Bull 3X Shares (NAIL), up more than 185% apiece.

 

Best-Performing Leveraged ETFs Of The Year

TickerFundYTD Return (%)
SOXL Direxion Daily Semiconductor Bull 3X Shares231.9
TECLDirexion Daily Technology Bull 3X Shares185.6
NAIL Direxion Daily Homebuilders & Supplies Bull 3X Shares184.7
RUSL Direxion Daily Russia Bull 3X Shares138.9
HOML ETRACS Monthly Reset 2xLeveraged ISE Exclusively Homebuilders ETN137.7

Data measures total returns for 2019.

 

Alternative Energy ETFs Shine
To be sure, the average ETF investor isn’t holding those geared products. But they didn’t have to. 2019 was an extraordinary year in which eye-popping returns were the norm. Some alternative energy ETFs, for example, returned upward of 66.5%.

That’s how much the Invesco Solar ETF (TAN), the No. 1 best-performing nonleveraged ETF of 2019, gave investors. It was joined by the Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy ETF (PBW), the SPDR S&P Kensho Clean Power ETF (CNRG) and the ALPS Clean Energy ETF (ACES), each of which rose by more than 50%.

Semis Power Tech ETFs 
Another group to sizzle in 2019 was semiconductor ETFs. The SPDR S&P Semiconductor ETF (XSD), the VanEck Vectors Semiconductor ETF (SMH), the iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF (SOXX) and the First Trust Nasdaq Semiconductor ETF (FTXL) were among those funds benefiting from the rally in chip stocks, gaining as much as 64.7%.

Semis weren’t the only technology ETFs to soar in 2019. Even a broad sector fund, such as the Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLK), managed to crack the top 20, rising a whopping 49.9%. The Fidelity MSCI Information Technology Index ETF (FTEC) and the Vanguard Information Technology ETF (VGT) weren’t in the top 20, but they were just behind, with gains of 48.9% and 48.6%, respectively.

In addition to chip stocks, software stocks like Microsoft and device stocks like Apple powered the technology sector higher.

(Use our stock finder tool to find an ETF’s allocation to a certain stock.)

Multiyear Highs In Precious Metals
Precious metal funds had multiple entries on the best-performing ETFs list. The ETFMG Prime Junior Silver Miners ETF (SILJ), the Aberdeen Standard Physical Palladium Shares ETF (PALL) and the U.S. Global GO Gold and Precious Metal Miners ETF (GOAU) were among the biggest winners in the space.

It was a good year for precious metals, as gold topped $1,500/oz for the first time in six years; silver breached $19 for the first time in three years; and palladium hit a record high just under $2,000.

Low interest rates, and in palladium’s case, a favorable supply/demand imbalance, fueled gains in the precious metals complex.

Best Health Care & EM ETFs
Rounding out the list of best-performing ETFs are a few funds from other categories. The Virtus LifeSci Biotech Clinical Trials ETF (BBC) and the ALPS Medical Breakthroughs ETF (SBIO) were the top health care ETFs of the year; and the Global X MSCI China Consumer Staples ETF (CHIS) and the Franklin FTSE Russia ETF (FLRU) were the top emerging market equity ETF.

For a full list of 2019’s best-performing ETFs, see the table below:

 

Best Performing ETFs Of The Year (ex. leveraged/inverse)

TickerFundYTD Return (%)
TAN Invesco Solar ETF66.5
XSD SPDR S&P Semiconductor ETF64.7
SMH VanEck Vectors Semiconductor ETF64.4
BBC Virtus LifeSci Biotech Clinical Trials ETF63.8
CNRG SPDR S&P Kensho Clean Power ETF63.2
PBW Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy ETF62.6
SOXX iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF62.4
FTXL First Trust Nasdaq Semiconductor ETF61.8
SILJ ETFMG Prime Junior Silver Miners ETF57
GOAU U.S. Global GO Gold and Precious Metal Miners ETF54.2
PALL Aberdeen Standard Physical Palladium Shares ETF53.9
PSI Invesco Dynamic Semiconductors ETF52.5
CHIS Global X MSCI China Consumer Staples ETF52
ACES ALPS Clean Energy ETF51.7
FLRU Franklin FTSE Russia ETF50.9
EWZS iShares MSCI Brazil Small-Cap ETF50.6
SBIO ALPS Medical Breakthroughs ETF50.3
GREK Global X MSCI Greece ETF50.2
RING iShares MSCI Global Gold Miners ETF49.9
XLK Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund49.9

Data measures total returns for 2019.

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

 

Sumit Roy is the senior ETF analyst for etf.com, where he has worked for 13 years. He creates a variety of content for the platform, including news articles, analysis pieces, videos and podcasts.

Before joining etf.com, Sumit was the managing editor and commodities analyst for Hard Assets Investor. In those roles, he was responsible for most of the operations of HAI, a website dedicated to education about commodities investing.

Though he still closely follows the commodities beat, Sumit covers a much broader assortment of topics for etf.com, with a particular focus on stock and bond exchange-traded funds.

He is the host of etf.com’s Talk ETFs, a popular video series that features weekly interviews with thought leaders in the ETF industry. Sumit is also co-host of Exchange Traded Fridays, etf.com’s weekly podcast series.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys climbing the city’s steep hills, playing chess and snowboarding in Lake Tahoe.