There are a lot of exchange-traded funds on the market and many of those funds are similar in makeup, but most retail or part-time investors are aware of the more popular names like GLD, QQQ, XLF and UNG. There are many more to choose from and worth your research time. Below are five ETFs that have seen impressive growth over the past year or since inception. If you're looking for new research ideas, here are five.

SEE: What Are SPDR ETFs?

SPDR S&P Homebuilders - XHB
You've likely heard of the select sector SPDR series of ETFs, but the most popular of these funds cover broad sectors like financials, technology and consumer staples. What isn't as well-known are their many other funds, including the SPDR S&P Homebuilders. This ETF tracks the performance of the S&P select homebuilders' index, investing at least 80% of their funds in stocks in the index. Currently, the ETF is up nearly 19% in the past year and has an average volume of 8 million shares. Although not appropriate as an income ETF, XHB has a current yield of 0.73%.

PowerShares Dynamic Pharmaceuticals ETF - PJP
The PJP replicates the Dynamic Pharmaceuticals IntellidexSM Index - an index comprised of 30 U.S. pharmaceutical companies engaged in research and development, manufacture or sales of drugs of various types. The fund invests at least 80% of its total assets in the stocks of pharmaceutical companies and typically 90% in companies that make up the index.

This ETF has seen an impressive gain of nearly 18% since January and yields 0.62%. The volume only averages 80,000 shares on a normal trading day and the 0.63% net expense ratio is a little higher than average, but the impressive gains may make up for that.

SEE: Evaluating Pharmaceutical Companies

Market Vectors Retail ETF - RTH
The retail sector has performed well over the past year and although the XRT is the best-known way to capture the performance of the retail sector, the Market Vectors Retail ETF is just over six months old and represents a new way to invest in the retail sector.

The RTH replicates the Market Vectors U.S. Listed Retail 25 index, a fund comprised of U.S. retail companies. RTH's expense ratio is virtually the same as the XRT and although it has slightly underperformed the XRT, investors may be attracted to an index comprised of names that have room for growth. Though the average volume is low due to the ETF being young, the YTD 13% gain doesn't fail to impress.

iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF - IBB
Along with pharmaceuticals, the biotech sector has seen an impressive year. The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF attempts to replicate the results of the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index by investing at least 90% of its assets in stocks that make up that index. Its 0.48% expense ratio aligns well with the industry standard 0.46% and although it only has a 0.17% yield, any yield is a plus in a growth ETF.

IBB has seen an almost 15% gain over the past year and with over 500,000 shares traded daily, it's clear that investors are beginning to notice this ETF.

SEE: How To Do Qualitative Analysis On Biotech Companies

Powershares S&P 500 Low Volatility ETF - SPLV
Sometimes market conditions are such that high volatility ETFs aren't appropriate. When that's the case, take a look at PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility ETF. This ETF invests at least 90% of its holdings into companies that make up the S&P 500 low volatility index.

With its low expense ratio of 0.25%, well under the sector average of 0.36%, investors looking for low volatility at a low cost might like this name. With 900,000 changing hands daily but the 3.33% yield and the one-year growth of 11.8%, investors looking for a safe haven may want to consider this name.

The Bottom Line
Sometimes ETFs aren't well known because investors find flaws in the fund but other times, they're hidden in the more than 1,000 ETFs currently offered to investors. As always, use these recommendations as the beginning of your research. Never put your money into something purely based on somebody else's research.

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