When shopping for a new home, the choices facing homebuyers are diverse, much like shopping for a housing-related ETF. And as the housing recovery has been rising steadily, so has the interest in housing ETFs.
More evidence of the housing recovery surfaced last week. An average U.S. home now is worth about 10 percent more than it was a year ago, its biggest annual improvement since the market went south in 2006, according to last Monday’s S'P/Case Shiller Home Price Index report.
So it’s no wonder housing has attracted the eye of investors, but as is usually the case with ETFs, all housing funds are not created equally when it comes to exposure. Investors hoping to profit from what looks to be a real housing recovery have plenty of options.
We’ve compiled a list of what we see as some of the best ETFs for tapping into this U.S. housing rebound, with the help of IndexUniverse ETF Analyst Paul Baiocchi.
This list is not ranked in any particular order because housing-linked ETFs are as diverse as the various segments that comprise the market. They include exposure to everything from homebuilder stocks to mortgage securities to REITs and even to some home-goods retailers like Home Depot, and consumer stocks.
That’s to say there’s seldom an apples-to-apples comparison. What they all do offer is some of the best-in-class exposure to the various pockets of the U.S. housing market, even if their returns aren’t always stellar.
1. iShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index Fund (ITB)
The fund is a cap-weighted portfolio that “represents the best available industry exposure in an ETF,” according to IndexUniverse’s ETF Analytics research. Its portfolio comprises the biggest exposure to the largest homebuilders in the market—62 percent.
The $2.6 billion fund, however, comes with a salty price tag of 0.47 percent, although investors don’t seem to mind, as strong liquidity helps keep transaction costs down. ITB has tagged on gains of more than 60 percent in the past year, making it one of the top-performing funds in the last 12 months.
2. SPDR S'P Homebuilders ETF (XHB)
XHB is equal weighted, which dilutes its exposure to homebuilders compared with counterpart ITB, and the fund also invests in names like Bed, Bath ' Beyond and La-Z-Boy, which aren’t really homebuilder stocks. In fact, less than a third of the overall portfolio is tied to homebuilders.
The highly liquid $2.9 billion fund also carries a small-cap stock tilt, with 37 percent of its holdings being small-caps, but it’s cheaper than ITB at 0.35 percent. XHB has now rallied more than 50 percent in the past 12 months.
3. iShares FTSE NAREIT Residential Plus Capped Index Fund (REZ)
“The only ETF that will really get you targeted exposure to profit off this real estate/housing boom as it relates to residential real estate is REZ,” Baiocchi said in a CNBC interview last week.
Still, residential REITs amount to only about 45 percent of the portfolio. The $348 million REZ also invests in a lot of REITs that fall outside of residential real estate, such as health care and hotel REITs, but the fund trades well, and is currently delivering a dividend yield of 2.9 percent. It costs 0.48 percent a year and has now gained 11.2 percent on the year.
4. Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
The $19.7 billion fund is by many measures the broadest U.S. real estate ETF that best reflects the overall market, but its portfolio only has 17 percent exposure tied to REITs focused on residential real estate.
VNQ diversifies into various real estate sectors, including commercial REITs that represent more than half of the 120-holding portfolio. Its dividend yield is clocking in at 3.3 percent, and the fund only costs 0.10 percent. VNQ has gained 13.4 percent in the past year.
5. iShares FTSE NAREIT Mortgage Plus Capped Index Fund (REM)
Mortgage REIT ETFs such as REM invest in companies that borrow in ultra-short term markets and buy mortgages. They earn a spread in doing so, and typically take on leverage—the fund has actually slipped 1.7 percent in the past 12 months.
REM is a narrowly focused portfolio with 70 percent of its assets tied to the top 10 holdings, but that’s what it sets out to do. The $1.1 billion portfolio yields roughly 12 percent “but it’s fraught with risk,” Baiocchi said. REM costs 0.48 percent.
6. iShares Barclays MBS Bond Fund (MBB)
MBB serves up pure-play access to U.S.-issued mortgage pass-through debt. While the fund has a roster of competitors, it ranks highest in terms of size and liquidity—MBB has $6.26 billion in assets and trades more than $35 million in tight spreads most days.
Still, the fund is far costlier than others in the segment, at 0.26 percent, and it has now tagged on losses of nearly 2 percent in the past year.
7. Vanguard Mortgage-Backed Securities ETF (VMBS)
Like most Vanguard funds, VMBS comes with one of the lowest expense ratios around, at 0.12 percent. The fund invests in government-agency-issued debt backed by pools of mortgages, and has gathered a respectable $400 million in assets.
But VMBS does not enjoy the same liquidity benefits its counterpart MBB does, meaning its trading costs for larger orders can stack up. The fund is now down 1.2 percent on the year.
8. Market Vectors Mortgage REIT Income ETF (MORT)
MORT is a pretty well diversified portfolio of mortgage REITs, with an attractive price tag of only 0.40 percent—cheaper than some of its competitors. But the $112 million ETF trades with average spreads of 0.15 percent—rather wide for the segment—something that can add costs to investors. But this rather “straightforward portfolio of mortgage REITs,” as IU’s analysts put it, is paying a dividend yield of nearly 11 percent.
9. PowerShares Dynamic Building ' Construction Portfolio (PKB)
PKB is not a straight-up market-cap-weighted fund, but rather a growth- and value-focused quantitative strategy that invests in construction and engineering companies it expects will outperform the broader industry. It’s somewhat of a niche-y—and still small, at $111 million in assets—strategy that can be used to tap into a rather-small pocket of the market.
The fund is certainly not one to be considered a pure play since its 30-holding portfolio includes exposure to cyclical consumer stocks as well as financials and materials. It also comes with a hefty price tag—0.63 percent a year—but it has seen a solid 60 percent rally in the past year.
10. iShares Cohen ' Steers Realty Majors Index Fund (ICF)
ICF invests in the top 30 large-cap REITs, focusing on the cream of the crop of the real estate market, even if its scope is narrower than the overall segment. The $3.1 billion fund has massive liquidity, trading more than $26 million on average a day, and it costs 0.35 percent—not bad for such a concentrated fund. ICF has tagged on gains of 10 percent in the past 12 months.
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