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Best & Worst Performing ETFs of First Quarter

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Global stocks enjoyed a strong rally in the first quarter driven by a rapid vaccination rollout and unprecedented stimulus that led to swift economic recovery, raising the appeal for riskier assets. Notably, the United States reached a record three-day stretch of 10 million shots over the weekend, according to the latest Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, and plans to offer inoculations to 90% of adults.

However, rising inflationary pressures and surging yields have made investors jittery since late last month. This is because these have sparked fears of overvaluation especially in a high-growth sector like technology, which has seen a huge surge during the pandemic. The dollar also climbed to one-year higher against major currencies on optimism over rapid distribution of U.S. vaccines and President Joe Biden’s plans to spend up to $4 trillion on infrastructure (read: Why Fear Rising Rates? Play Cyclical ETFs).

In the commodity world, while the shine for gold and silver has waned, the industrial metals and energy have become red hot. The industrial metals like copper, platinum and tin are surging on optimism over the economic recovery. Agricultural commodities are also not behind with corn seeing strength on China’s buying binge. Meanwhile, oil price has returned to pre-COVID-19 levels on rising demand and tightening supplies.
Given this, we have highlighted the best and worst-performing zones of first-quarter 2021 and their ETFs:

Best Zones


Breakwave Dry Bulk Shipping ETF (BDRY - Free Report) has gained the most, surging 114.3% so far this year on rising dry bulk shipping rates. The expectation of a speedy global economic recovery has brightened the demand outlook for all vessel categories, leading to spike in the rates. Additionally, the Mar 23 blockage of huge container ship named Ever Given in the Suez Canal has caused disruptions in shipping, pushing shipping rates higher. The fund provides exposure to the dry bulk shipping market through a portfolio of near-dated freight futures contracts on dry bulk indices. The fund has accumulated about $50.1 million in AUM and trades in a good volume of about 226,000 shares per day on average. It charges a higher annual fee of 3.32% (read: ETFs to Win/Lose on Suez Canal Blockage).


Cannabis stocks have been the biggest winners on the wave of wider legalization as well as the growing adoption of marijuana in more states. Additionally, deal activities as well as the Reddit frenzy have strengthened the case for these stocks. With AUM of $146.9 million, Amplify Seymour Cannabis ETF (CNBS - Free Report) is actively managed and invests 80% of its assets in securities of companies with 50% or more of their revenues from the cannabis and hemp ecosystem. The fund holds 28 securities and charges 75 bps in annual fees. It trades in an average daily volume of 327,000 shares and has surged 60% in the first quarter.


The crazy run of the cryptocurrency, bitcoin, buoyed by enthusiasm that it would become a mainstream investment and payments vehicle led to a solid rally in blockchain ETF like Amplify Transformational Data Sharing ETF (BLOK - Free Report) of 55.3%. It is actively managed, providing investors global exposure to a basket of the leading companies engaged in the development and utilization of blockchain technologies. It has AUM of $1.2 billion in its asset base and trades in an average daily volume of 1.3 million shares. The product holds a basket of 53 stocks with American firms dominating about 56.8% of the portfolio, followed by Asia Pacific (36.8%). The ETF has an expense ratio of 0.71% (read: 5 ETF Winners of Coronavirus Pandemic).

Worst Zones


As stock market volatility has taken the back seat this year, volatility products have been the biggest losers. In particular, iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX - Free Report) has plunged 31.6%. It focuses on the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index, which reflects implied volatility in the S&P 500 Index at various points along the volatility forward curve. It provides investors with exposure to a daily rolling long position in the first and second months of VIX futures contracts. This ETN is unpopular and illiquid with AUM of $1.2 billion and an average daily volume of 62.9 million shares. The note charges 89 bps in annual fees.

Gold Mining

Rising bond yields and rising dollar, which reflects improving economic outlook as well as pickup in inflation expectations, dampened the appeal for the yellow metal. Acting as a leveraged play on the underlying metal prices, metal miners tend to experience more losses than their bullion cousins in a declining metal market. While many gold mining ETFs have been experiencing losses, VanEck Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ - Free Report) has lost 19.7%. It focuses on small-cap companies that are involved primarily in the mining for gold and/or silver by tracking the MVIS Global Junior Gold Miners Index. Holding 97 stocks in its basket, Canadian firms dominate the fund’s portfolio at 44.8%, while Australia (20.2%) and South Africa (7.2%) round out the top three. The product has AUM of $5.1 billion and charges 53 bps in annual fees. It trades in heavy volume of around 6.2 million shares a day on average (read: Time for Gold Mining ETFs?).


As technology sector saw a sharp sell-off in the second half of the first quarter, TrueShares Technology, AI and Deep Learning ETF (LRNZ - Free Report) bore the largest brunt, shedding 18.8%. It is an actively managed fund that targets companies with leading-edge artificial intelligence, machine learning, or deep learning technology platforms, algorithms, or applications that are believed to provide distinct competitive advantages in an industry historically characterized by a winner-take-all consolidation behavior. It holds 23 stocks in its basket and charges 68 bps in fees per year. LRNZ has amassed $25.4 million in its asset base since its debut a year ago. It trades in an average daily volume of 12,000 shares.

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