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Aerospace ETF Showdown: So Good, It’s Hard to Go Wrong


Twenty-seven of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average are higher Wednesday. Stocks with aerospace exposure, including Boeing (BA) and General Electric (GE), are contributing to the blue chip index’s upside, a familiar theme over the past year.

And while investors looking to gain exposure to industrial stocks via ETFs often do so with the likes of the Industrial Select Sector SPDR (XLI) and the Vanguard Industrials ETF (VIS) , there are more tactical approaches to the aerospace and defense sub-industry. It just so happens that two of the aerospace ETFs are breaking out to new all-time highs today.

The iShares U.S. Aerospace & Defense ETF (ITA) , the traditional, cap-weighted spin on aerospace and defense names touched a new all-time higher earlier Wednesday. A combined 18.2% weight to Dow components Boeing and United Technologies (UTX) is helping ITA’s cause.  ITA is up more than 54% in the past year. [Spotlight on Aerospace ETFs]

Investors should not forget about the SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF (XAR) , the equal-weight play on the aerospace industry.  XAR also hit a new all-time high earlier Wednesday and did so on volume that is already about 40% above daily average, enough to confirm buyers are eager to get their hands on XAR.  [2013's Best Industrial ETF]

Like ITA, XAR is also up more than 54% in the past 12 months. In fact, the two ETFs were locked in a heated contest to wear the crown of 2013’s best industrial ETF. XAR is not short on the largest, most familiar aerospace names, a fact confirmed by Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Northrop Grumman (NOC) residing among the ETF’s top-10 holdings.  However, Boeing and United Technologies combine for just 7.7% of XAR’s weight.

At the end of the day, ITA and XAR represent different avenues to the same destination: Profitable exposure to the aerospace industry. Over the past year, it has been almost impossible to go wrong with either fund.

One possible knock on aerospace stocks and ETFs is the argument that after last year’s surge, the industrial sector is fully and fairly valued. XLI was the second-best of the nine sector SPDR ETFs last year. However, ITA and XAR can accrue further upside for another reason: The durability of industrials in rising rate environments. That is right. Industrials are one of the best-performing sectors when interest rates rise. [A Sturdy Industrial ETF]

SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF

Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of General Electric.