Utility ETFs Making A Swift Comeback

Includes: IDU, JXI, VPU, XLU
by: Tom Lydon

Defensive sector ETFs are surging in the marketplace. The once-languid utility sector has been shoving and pushing aside other major sectors, and it now stands on top. At least for now.

Preliminary figures show that the Dow Jones U.S. Utilities Index is the best performer for December, reports Kate Gibson for MarketWatch. Some analysts view the move into defensive areas like utilities and telecoms as less to do with economic uncertainty and more to do with fund managers hanging onto year-end profits.

Analysts note that this short-term burst in defensive stocks won’t last, and by the new year, investors will go back to riskier selections.

According to utility fund manager Maura Shaughnessy of MFS Investment Management, the utilities sector has outperformed eight other major market segments in the past month, writes Aaron Pressman for Reuters. For the year, however, utilities have been one of the lower performers as compared to the major sectors.

Shaughnessy is also looking into foreign utilities companies, which trade at lower price to earnings ratios and have freer cash flows than similar U.S. operators. “Midstream producers” are also doing well with their ability turn a sizable profit by processing natural gas into products like ethane and propane, which prices are more tied to oil. She is less enthusiastic about natural gas producers who have expanded operations while prices are still so low.

  • Select Sector SPDR Utilities (NYSEArca: XLU): up 11.2% yer-to-date

  • iShares Dow Jones U.S. Utilities (NYSEArca: IDU): up 13.0% year-to-date

  • Vanguard Utilities ETF (NYSEArca: VPU): up 11.1% year-to-date

  • iShares S&P Global Utilities (NYSEArca: JXI): up 6.1% year-to-date

Max Chen contributed to this article.

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