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The materials sector represents the well-springs of industrial growth given the demand for raw materials found in base metals and even petroleum. Weak stocks in the sector equate well with the state of manufacturing conditions given they are end users of products.

Recently there has been concern regarding global economic contraction led by China and the eurozone. This has recently spilled-over to recent "worse than expected" employment data in the U.S. As such demand for the most significant base metal, copper, has decreased and so has these prices. It's often said that copper is the best economic forecaster given demand views. Less demand and lower copper prices often lead economic growth in any economy.

Another important factor to consider is ZIRP (global central banks zero interest rate policies) which is designed to stimulate economic conditions. A secondary effect is to reflate perhaps declining prices (base metals and etc) from slack demand. Of course these policies may also get out of control leading to much higher prices and inflation. We see this most prominently in precious metals prices as many investors will use these as a hedge against declining currencies (the dollar primarily for U.S. investors) and the ongoing destruction of purchasing power.

There are currently nearly over fourteen ETFs oriented to the materials sector with more on the way. The following analysis features a fair representation of ETFs available. We believe from these investors may choose an appropriate ETF to satisfy the best index-based offerings individuals and financial advisors may utilize.

We're not ranking these ETFs favoring one over another so don't let the listing order mislead you. Although we may use some of these in ETF Digest portfolios it's not our intention to recommend one over another.

ETFs are based on indexes tied to well-known index providers including Russell, S&P, Barclays, MSCI, Dow Jones and so forth. Also included are some so-called "enhanced" indexes that attempt to achieve better performance through more active management of the index.

Where competitive issues exist and/or repetitive issues available at a fee cost saving we mention those as other choices. New issues are coming to market consistently (especially globally) and sometimes these issues will need to become more seasoned before they may be included at least in our listings.

For traders and investors wishing to hedge, leveraged and inverse issues are available to utilize from ProShares and Direxion and where available these are noted.

We feature a technical view of conditions from monthly chart views. Simplistically, we recommend longer-term investors stay on the right side of the 12 month simple moving average. When prices are above the moving average, stay long, and when below remain in cash or short. Some more interested in a fundamental approach may not care so much about technical issues preferring instead to buy when prices are perceived as low and sell for other reasons when high; but, this is not our approach.

For traders and investors wishing to hedge, leveraged and inverse issues are available to utilize from ProShares and Direxion and where available these are noted.

#10: PowerShares Small-Cap Materials ETF (PSCM)

PSCM follows the S&P Small-Cap 600 Materials Index. This is of course a more unique approach following the small cap sector including just those companies within the materials sector. The fund was launched April 2010. The expense ratio is .29%. As a new fund AUM is only $4 million and average daily trading volume is less than 6K shares.

As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield was 1.27% with a YTD return 9.05%. Through the volatile third quarter of 2011 the YTD return was -22.04%. The one year return was -6.01% which adequately reflects the high volatility.

Given the newness of the issue, low AUM, light trading volume and high volatility it may be worthwhile for investors to let this issue season some before jumping in. But, if investors feel the opportunity is worthwhile always enter a limit order.

Data as of April 2012

PSCM Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.H.B. Fuller Company (FUL): 5.62%

2.Eagle Materials, Inc. (EXP): 5.37%

3.Buckeye Technologies, Inc. (BKI): 5.12%

4.PolyOne Corporation (POL): 4.65%

5.Schweitzer-Mauduit International, Inc. (SWM): 4.32%

6.SunCoke Energy Inc (SXC): 3.83%

7.Texas Industries Inc (TXI): 3.60%

8.Kraton Performance Polymers Inc (KRA): 3.40%

9.OM Group, Inc. (OMG): 3.39%

10.AK Steel Holding Corporation (AKS): 3.33%

#9: iShares Emerging Markets Materials ETF (EMMT)

EMMT tracks the MSCI Emerging Markets Materials Index which as time passes this should be an interesting and potentially profitable sector. The fund was launched in January 2010. The expense ratio is .69%. AUM equal $8 million and average daily trading volume is less than 3K shares. As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield was 3.13% and YTD return 7.31%.

Through the third quarter of a volatile 2011 the YTD was -30.45%. The one year return was -24.05%.

Data as of April 2012

EMMT Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

  1. Vale S.A. ADR (VALE.P): 9.30%
  2. Vale S.A. ADR (VALE): 8.49%
  3. POSCO ADR (PKX): 8.40%
  4. AngloGold Ashanti Limited (OTCQB:AULGF): 4.39%
  5. Sociedad Quimica Y Minera De Chile SA ADR (SQM): 4.20%
  6. Impala Platinum Holdings (IMP): 2.78%
  7. MMC Norilsk Nickel ADR (OTCPK:NILSY): 2.70%
  8. Gold Fields Ltd (GFI): 2.62%
  9. China Steel Corporation ADR (OTC:CISXF): 2.56%
  10. Grupo Mexico, S.A.B. de C.V. (GMEXICO B): 2.52%

#8: SPDR International Materials ETF (IRV)

IRV follows the S&P Developed Ex-U.S. BMI Materials Sector Index. The index captures both developed and emerging market issues with market capitalizations of at least $100 million. The fund was launched in July 2008. The expense ratio is .50%. AUM equal $13 million and average daily trading volume is approximately 3K shares. As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield was 1.80% and YTD return 4.60%.

Hit hard by eurozone problems the YTD return through the third quarter of 2011 was -26.37%. The one year return for 2012 was -22.19%

Data as of April 2012

IRV Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.BHP Billiton Limited (OTCQB:BHPLF): 7.81%

2.Rio Tinto PLC (OTCQB:RTPPF): 4.90%

3.Basf SE (OTCPK:BFFAF): 4.90%

4.BHP Billiton PLC (BLT): 4.51%

5.Anglo American PLC (NASDAQ:AAL): 3.35%

6.Goldcorp, Inc.: 3.15%

7.Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Inc. (POT): 2.93%

8.Barrick Gold Corporation (ABX): 2.89%

9.Air Liquide (AI): 2.85%

10.Syngenta AG (OTCQB:SYENF): 2.72%

#7: Rydex Equal Weight Materials ETF (RTM)

RTM follows the S&P Equal Weight Index Materials. The index is unique with the equal weight feature which under a variety of circumstances can favor smaller cap issues over large. The fund was launched in November 2006. The expense ratio is .50%. AUM equal roughly $36M while average daily trading volume is 2.4K shares. As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield was 1.46% and YTD return of 8.58%. The one year return was -5.02%.

The equal weight issues from Rydex are quite well constructed giving investors a more balanced approach to the sector. Unfortunately the ownership for Rydex has change several times over the past few years restraining marketing efforts severely. New ownership will be more determined and effective in this regard in my opinion.

Data as of April 2012

RTM Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.United States Steel Corporation (X): 3.58%

2.Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. (CLF): 3.55%

3.Ball Corporation (BLL): 3.54%

4.Airgas Inc (ARG): 3.51%

5.FMC Corporation (FMC): 3.50%

6.Praxair, Inc. (PX): 3.42%

7.International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF): 3.42%

8.Ecolab, Inc. (ECL): 3.39%

9.PPG Industries, Inc. (PPG): 3.38%

10.E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (DD): 3.37%

#6: PowerShares Dynamic Basic Materials ETF (PYZ)

PYZ tracks the Dynamic Basic Materials Sector Intellidex Index which is another enhanced index designed to outperform more static indexes and using quantitative measures to select constituents. The fund was launched October 2006. The expense ratio is .60%.

AUM equal $63.5 million and average daily trading volume is around 17.5K shares. As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield was 1.18% and YTD return 15.15%. The one year return was -2.65%.

It's important for investors to remember an "enhanced" index may outperform its peers on the upside with the opposite effect on the downside.

Data as of April 2012

PYZ Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.International Paper Co. (IP): 2.68%

2.Sherwin-Williams Company (SHW): 2.56%

3.CF Industries Holdings Inc (CF): 2.54%

4.Ball Corporation : 2.53%

5.Eastman Chemical Company (EMN): 2.52%

6.Airgas Inc : 2.52%

7.FMC Corporation : 2.52%

8.E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company : 2.50%

9.PPG Industries, Inc. : 2.50%

10.Nucor Corp. (NUE): 2.49%

#5: First Trust Materials AlphaDEX ETF (FXZ)

FXZ follows the StrataQuant Materials Index which is an enhanced index which employs the AlphaDEX stock selection methodology making the index more active. The fund was launched in May 2007. The expense ratio is .70%. AUM equal $187 million and average daily trading volume is 137K shares.

As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield is .32% and YTD return 14.18%. The one year return was -1.76%.

It's important for investors to remember an "enhanced" index may outperform its peers on the upside with the opposite effect on the downside.

Data as of April 2012

FXZ Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.LyondellBasell Industries NV (LYB): 3.92%

2.Cabot Corporation (CBT): 3.40%

3.Timken Company (TKR): 3.25%

4.Royal Gold, Inc. (RGLD): 3.23%

5.Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc. A (SCHN): 3.20%

6.Westlake Chemical Corporation (WLK): 3.11%

7.Carpenter Technology Corporation (CRS): 3.07%

8.Reliance Steel and Aluminum (RS): 2.94%

9.Domtar Corp (UFS): 2.93%

10.CF Industries Holdings Inc : 2.88%

#4: iShares Global Materials ETF (MXI)

MXI follows the S&P Global Materials Index. The fund was launched in September 2006. The expense ratio is .48%. AUM is $526 million and average daily trading volume is nearly 71K shares.

As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield was 2.12% and YTD return 5.10%. The one year return was -17.98%.

Data as of April 2012

MXI Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.BHP Billiton Limited (OTCQB:BHPLF): 6.39%

2.Basf SE (OTCPK:BFFAF): 4.46%

3.Rio Tinto PLC (OTCQB:RTPPF): 4.33%

4.BHP Billiton PLC : 3.57%

5.E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company : 2.74%

6.Anglo American PLC (AAL): 2.74%

7.Vale SA ADR (VALE.P): 2.65%

8.Barrick Gold Corporation : 2.41%

9.Monsanto Company (MON): 2.37%

10.Dow Chemical Co (DOW): 2.28%

#3: Vanguard Materials ETF (VAW)

VAW follows the MSCI US Investable Market Materials 25/50 Index consists of wide range of constituents from small, mid to large cap securities within the overall materials sector. It was launched in January 2004.

The expense ratio is .19%. AUM equal $621 million and average daily trading volume is 77K shares. As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield was 2.02%% and YTD return 7.94%. The previous quarter return in 2011 was a sharp down -19.55%. The one year return was -5.67%.

Data as of April 2012

VAW Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company : 7.68%

2.Monsanto Company : 6.74%

3.Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold B (FCX): 6.27%

4.Dow Chemical Co : 6.11%

5.Praxair, Inc. : 5.81%

6.Newmont Mining Corporation (NEM): 5.33%

7.Air Products & Chemicals Inc (APD): 3.26%

8.Ecolab, Inc. : 3.12%

9.Mosaic Co (MOS): 2.78%

10.PPG Industries, Inc. : 2.37%

#2: iShares DJ Basic Materials ETF (IYM)

IYM follows the Dow Jones U.S. Basic Materials Index. The fund was launched in June 2000. The expense ratio is .48%. AUM is $554.9M and average daily trading volume is 310K shares.

As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield is 1.88% and YTD return 4.77%. The one year return was -13.7%.

Data as of April 2012

IYM Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company : 10.37%

2.Dow Chemical Co : 8.54%

3.Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Class B : 7.52%

4.Praxair, Inc. : 7.31%

5.Newmont Mining Corporation : 5.28%

6.Air Products & Chemicals Inc : 3.83%

7.Mosaic Co : 3.45%

8.LyondellBasell Industries NV : 3.11%

9.PPG Industries, Inc. : 3.11%

10.International Paper Co. : 2.98%

#1: SPDR Materials Sector ETF (XLB)

XLB follows the Materials Select Sector Index. The fund was launched in December 1998. The expense ratio is .20%. AUM (Assets under Management) equal $1.79 M and average daily trading volume is over 9.1M shares. As of April 2012 the annual dividend yield is 1.74% and YTD return was 6.24%. The one year return was -7.61%.

There are leveraged inverse and long ETFs available for hedging or speculation from ProShares and Direxion Shares.

Data as of April 2012

XLB Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

1.E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company : 11.25%

2.Monsanto Company : 9.74%

3.Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Class B : 8.23%

4.Praxair, Inc. : 7.81%

5.Newmont Mining Corporation : 5.79%

6.Dow Chemical Co : 5.51%

7.Air Products & Chemicals Inc : 4.41%

8.Ecolab, Inc. : 4.27%

9.Mosaic Co : 3.87%

10.International Paper Co. : 3.66%


We rank the top 10 ETF by our proprietary stars system as outlined below. However, given that we're sorting these by both short and intermediate issues we have split the rankings as we move from one classification to another.


Strong established linked index
Excellent consistent performance and index tracking
Low fee structure
Strong portfolio suitability
Excellent liquidity


Established linked index even if "enhanced"
Good performance or more volatile if "enhanced" index
Average to higher fee structure
Good portfolio suitability or more active management if "enhanced" index
Decent liquidity


Enhanced or seasoned index
Less consistent performance and more volatile
Fees higher than average
Portfolio suitability would need more active trading
Average to below average liquidity


Index is new
Issue is new and needs seasoning
Fees are high
Portfolio suitability also needs seasoning
Liquidity below average

It's been a wild year for the materials sector overall. Lower economic growth stunts demand while ZIRP inflates prices for stocks (stocks can inflate too!) and related commodities. Currently there is quite a duel between ZIRP, which brings hope for better future economic conditions, and poor current economic conditions globally.

It's also important to remember that ETF sponsors have their own competitive business interests when issuing products which may not necessarily align with your investment needs. New ETFs from highly regarded and substantial new providers are also being issued. These may include Charles Schwab's ETFs and Scottrade's Focus Shares which both are issuing new ETFs with low expense ratios and commission free trading at their respective firms. These may also become popular as they become seasoned.

The ETF Digest has no current positions in the featured ETFs.

(Source for data is from ETF sponsors and various ETF data providers)

Source: Top 10 Materials Sector ETFs