ETF Watchlist: Week of August 7, 2017

The week wrapped up with this little nugget courtesy of Leuthold chief investment strategist Jim Paulsen.

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That kind of unbridled enthusiasm (to be fair, I didn’t see the interview so I don’t know if there’s a degree of sarcasm involved) is usually a precursor to a market downturn. In Paulsen’s defense, he’s probably right in that the markets have a “good gig going”. Quarterly earnings have looked solid again. Unemployment is down to 4.3%. Job growth is strong. Inflation is modest. The Fed seems positioned to nudge rates up gently. It’s easy to see why investors keep scooping up equities, but there are a few potential warning spots under the surface. Wage growth is still relatively weak. The energy sector, one of the cornerstones of the economy, is struggling to handle oil prices that don’t seem to want to push north of $50. And let’s not forget that Washington’s investigation into Russia is picking up steam and North Korea appears to be making a more aggressive stance. People like to focus on the good during good times. There’s nothing wrong with that, but remember to keep a level head, look at things objectively and don’t race to buy equities for fear of missing out on the next leg up in the market. Performance chasing usually leads to bad outcomes.

The Dow built on last week’s gains by tacking on roughly an additional 1% while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq made modest moves. Eight different Dow components gained more than 2% this week with Apple (AAPL) providing the biggest boost following Tuesday’s strong earnings report. That puts the broader market up 11% year-to-date. Think that’s good? The overseas markets are doing even better! The iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA) is up 17%, while the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) is up 25%. Your takeaway: diversify your portfolio!

Perhaps the most interesting news this week came on the legal front. PureFunds, the ETF provider that manages eight different funds including the popular Cybersecurity ETF (HACK), was unceremoniously dumped by ETF Managers Group, the issuer that brought the funds to market. Details are few but the sides parted ways over what could be a fee dispute. I’ll cover this more below but it will be interesting to see if this emboldens more issuers or providers to push harder to divorce their partners in the future.

Here are this week’s four ETFs to keep an eye on.

ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK)

This is the new names of the former PureFunds ISE Cybersecurity ETF. As part of the dispute detailed above, two funds - the FinTech ETF (FINQ) and the Big Data ETF (BIGD) - are closing altogether, while the remaining six PureFunds ETFs will be renamed and change indexes. I wrote an article this week evaluating how the Cyber Security ETF will change given its new index (spoiler: very little), so go check that out. I traded a few messages with CEO Andrew Chanin this week. His firm is filing a lawsuit in response to the move and isn’t making any public comments at this time. It’s an unusual event for sure and I’m sure we’ll hear much more about it over time.

PowerShares Dynamic Leisure & Entertainment ETF (PEJ)

The entertainment sector is one that’s had a tough go so far in 2017. PriceLine (PCLN) continues to knock it out of the park, but Disney (DIS) and CBS (CBS) have changed little. Movie theater operator AMC Entertainment (AMC) is down over 50%. All of those names along with Marriott (MAR), Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) and Hertz Global (HTZ) will deliver earnings reports this week, possibly confirming the recent downtrend.

SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT)

I hate to keep beating up on the beleaguered retail sector, but we’re likely to get a slew of bad news again this week. JC Penney (JCP), Kohl’s (KSS), Macy’s (M), Michael Kors (KORS), Ralph Lauren (RL) and Nordstrom’s (JWN) all report earnings. Amazon (AMZN) continues to redefine the sector at the expense of the traditional brick and mortar businesses. Tthe Amplify Online Retail ETF (IBUY) is up 35% this year while the Retail ETF is down 7%. The bad news may already be priced into these names, but proceed with caution if you choose to dabble.

Others: VanEck Vectors Retail ETF (RTH), PowerShares Dynamic Retail ETF (PMR), Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF (VCR)

Renaissance IPO ETF (IPO)

It’s easy to look at the 25% year-to-date return of the IPO ETF and assume that all is well in that market. But the IPO market has actually been pretty weak. The number of issues brought to market this year is down and the ones that have gone public, namely Snap (SNAP) and Blue Apron (APRN), have done poorly. Both are down more than 40% from their post-IPO highs impacting the desire of other private companies interested in going public. These two names aren’t currently in this ETF - its top holdings are Ferrari (RACE), First Data (FDC) and Square (SQ). Beware of performance chasing with this fund.

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