Though the ETF industry has certainly come a long way since SPY‘s debut in 1993, there are still only a small percentage of ETFs that account for the majority of the industry’s assets. For some perspective, SPY’s total assets under management account for over one-tenth of all equity-based funds’ assets combined. And though some of the most popular exchange traded funds have managed to deliver stellar returns over the last few years, there are a handful of lesser-known ETFs that have also logged in noteworthy gains .

Meet The ETF Underdogs

For many, the research process prior to buying involves looking at the top ETFs by asset or the most popular funds by volume. Although this approach may be appropriate in some scenarios, it’s prudent to take a good look under the hood of some lesser-known ETFs as they may offer attractive opportunities. As such, below we investigate five exchange-traded products flying under the radar for most investors; each of the instruments profiled has posted stellar five-year trailing returns, while at the same time boasting under $1 billion in total assets under management.

Please note that the chart below is based on monthly returns, using adjusted closing prices, starting from 10/01/2008 up until 10/01/13 :

Nasdaq Internet Portfolio : This fund is designed to track the performance of the largest and most liquid U.S.-listed companies engaged in internet-related businesses. With just under $200 million in AUM, this fund has managed to gain more than 370% over the trailing five-year period, easily beating the broad market (as represented by SPY). Currently, the fund’s top holdings include (AMZN), (PCLN), Facebook (FB), and Google (GOOG).

MSCI Thailand Capped ETF : This iShares fund offers investors exposure to the Thai equity market and is home to just over $700 million in assets under management. The fund allocated roughly 30% of its assets to financial services companies, though energy, communication services, and industrial stocks also receive meaningful allocations. Even after taking a slight dip in 2012, THD has still managed to deliver over 300% over the last five years .

Dynamic Media : This fund is designed to give investors exposure to U.S. media companies, which are selected based on a wide range of investment criteria as opposed to the traditional market-cap weighted methodology. PBS’s top holdings include cable companies DISH Network (DISH) and DirectTV (DTV), as well as LinkedIn (LNKD), and Google (GOOG). With under $270 million in AUM, PBS has delivered a five-year return of over 220%.

Dynamic Pharmaceuticals : Another Powershares’ “dynamic offering,” this unique pharmaceutical ETF utilizes an alternative weighting methodology that selects companies based on a variety of investment merit criteria, including fundamental growth, stock valuation, investment timeliness and other risk factors. As a result of the methodology, no one security is given more than a 5.2% weighting and exposure is nicely spread out across pharma companies of varying market capitalization. Over the last five years, the fund has gained over 220%.

Market Vectors Gaming ETF : This Van Eck offering is designed to invest in publicly traded companies worldwide that derive more than half of revenues from the global gaming industry. BJK’s portfolio consists of roughly 48 individual holdings, featuring exposure to some of the top names in the industry, such as Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS) and Wynn Resorts (WYNN). The fund also features a well balanced mix of giant-, large- and mid-cap stocks, as well as some exposure to smaller capitalization companies. BJK, whose total assets under management total just over $60 million, has gained over 210% over the trailing five-year period .

Follow me on Twitter @DPylypczak.

Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.

Related Articles
  1. Chart Advisor

    Watch This ETF For Signs Of A Reversal (BCX)

    Trying to determine if the commodity markets are ready for a bounce? Take a look at the analysis of this ETF to find out if now is the time to buy.
  2. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETFs Can Be Safe Investments, If Used Correctly

    Learn about how ETFs can be a safe investment option if you know which funds to choose, including the basics of both indexed and leveraged ETFs.
  3. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The Top 5 Large Cap Core ETFs for 2016 (VUG, SPLV)

    Look out for these five ETFs in 2016, and learn why investors should closely watch how the Federal Reserve moves heading into the new year.
  4. Economics

    India: Why it Might Pay to Be Bullish Right Now

    Many investors are bullish on India for all the right reasons. Does it present an investing opportunity?
  5. Investing Basics

    Building My Portfolio with BlackRock ETFs and Mutual Funds (ITOT, IXUS)

    Find out how to construct the ideal investment portfolio utilizing BlackRock's tools, resources and its popular low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
  6. Investing

    3 Things About International Investing and Currency

    As world monetary policy continues to diverge rocking bottom on interest rates while the Fed raises them, expect currencies to continue their bumpy ride.
  7. Budgeting

    Plated Review, Is It Worth It?

    Take a closer look at the ready-to-cook meal service, Plated, and learn how the company can help you take the hassle out of home cooking.
  8. Investing News

    How China's Economy is Now Like America's

    China's economy could take the global economy down with it; why that might be good news in the grand scheme.
  9. Investing News

    A 2016 Outlook: What January 2009 Can Teach Us

    January 2009 and January 2016 were similar from an investment standpoint, but from a forward-looking perspective, they were very different.
  10. Chart Advisor

    These 3 ETFs Suggest Commodities Are Headed Lower (COMT,CCX,DBC)

    The charts of these three exchange traded funds suggest that commodities are stuck in a downtrend and it doesn't look like it will reverse any time soon.
  1. Should mutual funds be subject to more regulation?

    Mutual funds, when compared to other types of pooled investments such as hedge funds, have very strict regulations. In fact, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Do ETFs pay capital gains?

    Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) can generate capital gains that are transferred to shareholders, typically once a year, triggering ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How do real estate hedge funds work?

    A hedge fund is a type of investment vehicle and business structure that aggregates capital from multiple investors and invests ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Are Vanguard ETFs commission-free?

    While some Vanguard exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are available commission-free from third-party brokers, a large portion ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Do Vanguard ETFs require a minimum investment?

    Vanguard completely waives any U.S. dollar minimum amounts to buy its exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and the minimum ETF investment ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Can mutual fund expense ratios be negative?

    Mutual fund expense ratios cannot be negative. An expense ratio is the sum total of all fees charged by an asset management ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center