April has drawn to a close and on the back of some solid first-quarter earnings reports, the financial services sector, the S&P 500’s third-largest sector weight, delivered impressive gains in the fourth month of the year. The Financial Select Sector SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLF), the largest financial services exchange-traded fund (ETF) by assets, gained more than 9% in April.
The financial services sector is considered a value play, not a growth segment, such as consumer discretionary or technology, but financials are a cyclical group and strength in this segment is widely viewed as advantageous for broader equity markets.
“A strong U.S. economy is naturally good for business: Most of the banks saw bigger-than-expected gains in consumer lending, deposits, and credit card spending,” reports Barron’s.
Data suggest investors are renewing their enthusiasm for financial services funds. While bank funds were among April’s best ETFs, some were also the most popular ETFs to start the second quarter. As of April 29, XLF had monthly inflows of $1.39 billion, a total surpassed by just five other ETFs.
For investors looking to make some bank with bank funds, these are some of the best ETFs to consider.
SPDR S&P Bank ETF (KBE)
Expense Ratio: 0.35%, or $35 annually per $10,000 invested
The financial services sector includes more than just banks, but for investors looking to focus on traditional banks, the SPDR S&P Bank ETF (NYSEARCA:KBE) is one of the best ETFs to consider.
Home to 88 stocks, KBE provides “exposure to the bank segment of the S&P TMI, which comprises the following sub-industries: asset management & custody banks, diversified banks, regional banks, other diversified financial services and thrifts & mortgage finance sub-industries,” according to State Street.
KBE, which added $84.22 million in April (as of April 29), equally weights its components, a strategy that can lower single-stock risk. Familiar names among the fund’s top 10 holdings include Citigroup (NYSE:C) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM). Both of those banks delivered first-quarter results that beat Wall Street estimates.
Citigroup has been buying back its shares at a brisk pace and looking to cut costs — two strategies that boosted the bank’s first-quarter results.
Global X MSCI China Financials ETF (CHIX)
Expense Ratio: 0.65%
Obviously, the Global X MSCI China Financials ETF (NYSEARCA:CHIX) is a play on Chinese banks, making it one of the best ETFs for investors looking to add some international diversification to U.S.-heavy financial services positions. CHIX is also one of this year’s best ETFs in the financial services space with a year-to-date gain of just over 20%.
China is the world’s second-largest economy and stocks there are among this year’s emerging markets leaders, explaining why CHIX is one of the best ETFs in the financial services segment. Bank stocks are integral parts of many traditional China funds, indicating that CHIX is a, somewhat overlooked, tell on what to expect from China ETFs over the near- to medium-term.
Amid soaring first-quarter loan activity, China’s major banks recently reported solid earnings.
On April 29, “Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., Bank of China Ltd., China Construction Bank Corp. and Bank of Communications Co. posted higher net income. Including Agricultural Bank of China Ltd., which reported last week, rises at the big five clustered in a range from 4.1 percent to 4.9 percent,” reports Bloomberg.
iShares U.S. Regional Banks ETF (IAT)
Expense Ratio: 0.43%
Last year, regional bank stocks and funds sorely disappointed investors as the Federal Reserve boosted interest rates four times. As highlighted by the iShares U.S. Regional Banks ETF (NYSEARCA:IAT), which is up about 20% this year, the regional bank picture is brightening in 2019.
The more sanguine interest rate outlook coupled with speculation of increased consolidation is among the factors making regional bank ETFs, such as IAT, some of this year’s best ETFs. Currently, BB&T Corp. (NYSE:BBT) and SunTrust (NYSE:STI), IAT’s third- and fourth-largest holdings, respectively, are discussing a merger, stoking speculation more regional bank consolidation is on the way.
Regional banks are heavily dependent on strength in the broader U.S. economy. Robust economic activity combined with steady or declining interest rates, which can boost demand for mortgage loans, are among the factors investors need to consider with a fund such as IAT.
Oppenheimer S&P Financials Revenue ETF (RWW)
Expense Ratio: 0.45%
Many traditional financial services ETFs, such as the aforementioned XLK, are cap-weighted and there are a few, such as KBE, that are equally weighted. The Oppenheimer S&P Financials Revenue ETF (NYSEARCA:RWW) is one of the best ETFs for investors looking for a different view on the financial services sector. Specifically, this ETF weights its components by revenue.
Home to 69 stocks, RWW tracks the S&P 500 Financials Sector Revenue-Weighted Index. This year, it has been hard to argue with RWW’s revenue-weighted methodology. The fund is one of the best ETFs in this category with a year-to-date gain of 18.44%.
“Revenue weighting offers diversified equity market exposure but, by weighting companies based on their revenue, rather than their stock price, it increases the strategy’s exposure to attractively valued stocks compared to a market-cap-weighted index,” according to Oppenheimer.
Due to the revenue weighting, RWW allocates more than 15% of its weight to one stock: Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.B).
iShares MSCI Europe Financials ETF (EUFN)
Expense Ratio: 0.48%
The iShares MSCI Europe Financials ETF (NASDAQ:EUFN) is one of the best ETFs for risk-tolerant investors seeking international financial services exposure. EUFN has been one of the best ETFs for tactical exposure to Europe this year, but it is also one of the most volatile Europe funds. EUFN has a three-year standard deviation of almost 18%, well above the comparable metric on standard developed markets funds.
Investors in EUFN are compensated for the fund’s volatility and other risks with a trailing 12-month dividend yield of just over 6%, but European bank earnings have not been nearly as good as what has been seen in the U.S. and China and some banks in Europe are not as financially sturdy as their U.S. counterparts.
“Unfortunately, many of European banks’ woes are of their own making,” reports Forbes. “A host of regulatory and legal fines and ongoing money laundering investigations of several banks do not bode well for European earnings.”
Bottom line: EUFN is not for the faint of heart, but it may be one of the best ETFs for bank investors with a big flair for risk.
Todd Shriber owns shares of XLF.
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