NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Here are five ETFs to watch this week.
iShares Dow Jones U.S. Regional Banking ETF IAT
With strong showings from companies including Alcoa AA , Google GOOG and Wells Fargo WFC , investors have enjoyed an encouraging start to earnings season. The party is just getting started, though; as we look to the week ahead, an expansive group of companies is gearing up to report.
Once again, Big Finance will be in focus, with names like Citigroup C , Goldman Sachs GS , Bank of America BAC and Morgan Stanley MS on the docket.
Regional players can also be found on the list. For those using IAT to track this class of smaller financial institutions, USBancorp USB and PNC Financial Services PNC will be of particular importance. This duo alone represents nearly a third of the fund's assets. Other notable regional banks to watch include BB&T BBT and Fifth Third FITB .
Given the top-heavy nature of IAT, the fund may be left vulnerable to a substantial shake up in the event that any of these names fail to live up to expectations. The SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF KRE offers a more-diversified take on this corner of the financial sector, making it a better option for conservative individuals.
SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF XHB
The U.S. housing sector will have plenty of time in the spotlight next week as the markets digest new-home sales, building permits and existing-home sales data. In recent weeks we have seen some troubling signs of deterioration from the residential real estate sector, so analysts, market commentators and investors will be watching closely for signs of a turnaround.
REIT-focused funds like the iShares Dow Jones Real Estate Index Fund IYR continue to be my preferred choices when looking to venture into real estate. Even these funds should be approached carefully. They are best utilized as small niche holdings.
United States Natural Gas Fund UNG
Rising fuel prices continue to stand out as one of the biggest factors weighing on the domestic recovery. Not all corners of the energy spectrum have witnessed the same upward action, though.
On the contrary, as crude oil prices hover over $100 per barrel, natural gas has continued its multi-year free fall. This past week, the troubled fuel tumbled to levels not seen in a decade. In response, UNG has descended to all-time lows.
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At these rock-bottom prices, some investors may be tempted to try their luck with a futures-tracking fund like UNG or the iPath Dow Jones UBS Natural Gas Subindex Total Return ETN GAZ . These funds, however, are not the best options.
In the event that natural gas witnesses a turnaround in the near future, the equity-backed First Trust ISE Revere Natural Gas Index Fund FCG still looks like the best and most reliable choice.
iShares MSCI Spain Index Fund EWP
Europe has quickly found itself back in the global headlines over the past few weeks as sovereign debt fears have resurfaced. The ongoing drama facing nations like Spain and Italy stands as a reminder that, although we have enjoyed some solid signs of improvement during the opening months of 2012, many of the same macroeconomic storm clouds that plagued sentiment last year are still present.
China is the other major international macroeconomic story to watch. Hard landing concerns have persisted throughout the opening months of the year and last Friday these fears were fanned when the nation reported slowing growth in the first quarter.
When constructing a plan for the future, be sure to set aside some room for defense. In the event that market conditions get rocky, a proper line of protection can help to mitigate losses.
SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average Index Fund DIA
As the early-year rally has persisted and matured, we have seen some signs of shakiness. In the days ahead, broad-based funds like DIA will be in focus as we work through this rough patch. This ETF is also interesting to watch from an earnings perspective.
Found among the crowd of companies slated to step up this week are a number of names that comprise the iconic Dow Jones Industrials. IBM IBM , McDonald's MCD and Coca-Cola KO are three to watch particularly closely; together, they account for more than one-fifth of DIA's portfolio.
-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.