ETF Watchlist: Week of July 10, 2017

Friday’s market rally following a strong jobs report pushed the major indices back into the green for week and kicked off a solid start to Q3. The Dow, Nasdaq and the S&P 500 were all up marginally, but the real market action is set to kick off later this week as earnings season is back!

We get some lesser reports earlier in the week before the big bank results arrive on Friday. Citigroup (C), Wells Fargo (WFC), JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and PNC Bank (PNC) all report and will set the tone for the rest of the quarter. Citigroup and JPMorgan have delivered double digit returns for investors thus far in 2017 but Wells has only gained 2%. Keep an eye on balance sheet health for these companies and outlooks on the interest rate environment.

With relatively little on the economic calendar, Wall Street may again turn to Washington for direction. With Congress back from recess, we should get a fresh set of news on heathcare, Russia, the G20 summit and North Korea. Thus far, the market has reacted pretty tepidly to all news on these fronts, but we’re always just one event away from things picking up again.

I expect another relatively quiet week in the markets, but here are four ETFs that I think still warrant keeping an eye on.

iShares U.S. Aerospace & Defense ETF (ITA)

As you’ve probably already heard, North Korea has been test firing its missiles. A lot of them. It now appears that they’ve got a missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon and reaching the coast of Alaska. The U.S. along with China, South Korea and other concerned nations are threatening retaliation in order to settle down tensions.

For better or worse, defense stocks tend to rally around news like this. The iShares U.S. Aerospace & Defense ETF is the biggest in the space and is already up 15% year-to-date.

Others: SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF (XAR), PowerShares Aerospace & Defense ETF (PPA)

VanEck Vectors Steel ETF (SLX)

In another case of Washington leaking into the markets, President Trump this past week threatened to slap significant tariffs on foreign steel imports. It’s an idea that’s been largely criticized by government officials and could be received especially poorly by global trade partners. The decision could also be coming at a time when fallout from the G20 summit, one in which Trump reiterated his protectionist policies and refused a second chance to comply with the Paris climate accord, is still fresh in people’s minds. George W. Bush attempted to impose steel tariffs during his presidency and it didn’t end well.

Steel was a big winner following the election, but soon began to trail off as it became less clear when infrastructure projects and the border wall may actually begin, if at all. The Steel ETF dropped more than 20% from its February highs but has rallied again over the past few weeks.

Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF)

It seems a little repetitious to keep putting some version of banks and financials on the watchlist but this week’s earnings blitz makes it warranted.

Citigroup, JPMorgan and Bank of America (BAC), which will report next week, all announced huge buybacks and dividend raises last week. Their balance sheet health along with the rest of the financial sector seem to be in fairly good shape but watch for things such as net interest income, loan growth and loan loss provisions to get a picture of things. With dividends reinvested, the Financial ETF is finally back to pre-financial crisis levels, but the next week will give us a good idea if the sector is ready to push higher.

Others: Vanguard Financials ETF (VFH), SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF (KRE), SPDR S&P Bank ETF (KBE), iShares U.S. Financials ETF (IYF)

VanEck Vectors Rare Earth / Strategic Metals ETF (REMX)

Investing in rare earth elements has been a losing venture for years. Since its inception in 2010, this ETF has lost more than 70% of its value. But the sector has begun staging something of a comeback. Since the beginning of 2016, the fund has returned 44%, with a nearly 13% gain since June 22 alone.

Why the comeback? Rare earths actually have a number of applications and are used in things such as smartphones, hybrid cars and defense weaponry. But the sector is quite volatile and investors need to keep a long-term focus before considering investing in this space.

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