Consumer discretionary stocks, of those companies which offer goods and services which are desirable to consumers when they have sufficient means, were able to ride out some of the overall downward pressures on the stock market in late 2018. While many sectors plummeted in the final weeks of the year as a result of increasing trade tensions, geopolitical events and more, consumer discretionary companies were more likely than many of their rivals to see a boost from holiday shopping. Indeed, many retail stocks plateaued or even rebounded in the final days of the year thanks to increased spending and while other names across sectors were falling into one of the worst year-end periods since the financial crisis.
That's not to say that consumer discretionary stocks across the board fared exceptionally well in 2018, however. With the Fed hiking interest rates and with online sales consistently challenging traditional retail, many of the stalwarts of the sector are facing tremendous headwinds. For investors interested in broad exposure to the consumer discretionary space, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) remain a strong option. Nonetheless, it's crucial that investors choose funds with appropriate strategies to accommodate changes to the sector and to the spending habits of younger generations.
Below, we'll explore the top five ETFs focused on the consumer discretionary space for 2018. We'll look at how these funds compare to the S&P Consumer Discretionary Select Sector index and at how the funds themselves performed over the course of the year.
1. VanEck Vectors Retail ETF (RTH)
ETF returns for 2018: +2.46% (vs. -1.00% for benchmark)
2. iShares Evolved U.S. Discretionary Spending ETF (IEDI)
ETF returns for 2018: +0.80% (vs. -1.00% for benchmark)
3. Invesco Dynamic Media ETF (PBS)
ETF returns for 2018: +0.49% (vs. -1.00% for benchmark)
4. iShares U.S. Consumer Services ETF (IYC)
ETF returns for 2018: +0.41% (vs. -1.00% for benchmark)
5. SPDR Consumer Discretionary Select Sector ETF (XLY)
ETF returns for 2018: +0.06% (vs. -1.00% for benchmark)
VanEck Vectors Retail ETF
The VanEck Vectors Retail ETF (RTH) was the top-performing consumer discretionary sector fund for 2018, generating overall returns of 2.46%. This fund tracks an index of the largest 25 U.S.-based retail companies, weighted by market cap. What the fund lacks, however, is substantial exposure to global retail companies, although it does include U.S-listed retailers with a worldwide reach.
RTH was launched in December of 2011 and carries an expense ratio of 0.35%. It has assets under management of just under $110 million and an average daily trading volume of roughly $5 million.
iShares Evolved U.S. Discretionary Spending ETF
With returns of 0.80% for 2018, the iShares Evolved U.S. Discretionary Spending ETF (IEDI) claimed the second place on our list. This actively managed fund tracks an index of U.S. stocks of various weights. The stocks are not selected according to traditional sector classifications, but rather by machine learning algorithms; ultimately, IEDI tends to follow consumer discretionary names but lacks some media and entertainment companies.
IEDI was launched in March of 2018, making it one of the newest ETFs up for consideration. It carries an expense ratio of 0.18% and currently has an asset base of $5.05 million.
Invesco Dynamic Media ETF
The third position on our list goes to the Invesco Dynamic Media ETF (PBS), which returned 0.49% overall for 2018. As the name suggests, PBS focuses on U.S. media stocks. The fund picks names by a multifactor selection process and weights them equally but via a tiered system. In the end, PBS tends to focus on smaller companies over larger ones, but it remains one of very few ETFs focused on media names.
PBS was launched in June of 2005 and carries an expense ratio of 0.63%. It has assets under management of $50.7 million.
iShares U.S. Consumer Services ETF
Trailing PBS just slightly with overall returns of 0.41% for 2018 is the iShares U.S. Consumer Services ETF (IYC). IYC follows U.S. companies providing consumer services, including food and drug retailers and many liquid, large-cap names. IYC's index is weighted by market cap. Although it typically enjoys strong tracking, it does have a higher expense ratio as compared with other funds focused on the same subset of companies.
IYC was launched in June of 2000 and has an expense ratio of 0.43%. The fund has more than $839 million in assets under management as of this writing.
SPDR Consumer Discretionary Select Sector ETF
Although it barely broke even for 2018, the SPDR Consumer Discretionary Select Sector ETF (XLY) nonetheless managed to earn the last spot on our list of top performers for the year. Returns of just 0.06% reflect how poorly both the overall market as well as the consumer discretionary space did overall. XLY tracks consumer discretionary stocks drawn from the S&P 500. It tends toward large-cap companies and enjoys a much lower expense ratio than many other similar ETFs.
XLY was launched in December of 1998 and carries an expense ratio of just 0.13%. The fund has more than $12 billion in assets under management.