Health Care Holds The Lead As US ETF Sector Momentum Cools

The bullish glow for US stocks has faded lately, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the strong relative performance of the health care sector. This slice of the US market continues to maintain a sizable performance edge over the rest of the field, posting a nearly 22% total return for the trailing one-year (252 trading day) period. But in a sign of the times, even the Health Care Select Sector SPDR (XLV) is showing the strains of the latest risk-off trade for the market overall. Although XLV closed above its 200-day moving average yesterday (July 8), the fund slipped below its 50-day average.

Meanwhile, the energy sector remains the worst performer among the major US sectors. The early spring rally in March and April has deteriorated into a persistent slide that’s been roiling these stocks since early May. The Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE) has shed roughly 25% on a total return basis for the trailing one-year period through July 8—by far the worst sector performance. For comparison, the broad US stock market–SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY)–is ahead by roughly 6% for the trailing one-year period.


Here’s a review of trailing one-year performance histories that compares all the sector ETFs with indexed prices re-set to starting values of 100 as of July 10, 2014. Health care’s leadership (black line at top of chart) is a bit wobbly these days relative to recent history, but for the moment there are no serious challengers. Ditto for energy’s negative momentum at the opposite extreme of the horse race (purple line at bottom).


Finally, here’s a review of recent momentum for the sector ETFs via current prices relative to their trailing 50- and 200-day moving averages, as shown in the next chart below. (Note: moving average data is calculated based on split-adjusted closing prices before dividends/distributions.) For example, the health care ETF (XLV) closed yesterday at nearly 1% below its 50-day moving average (red square at left) and roughly 4.6% above its 200-day average (black square).

Here’s a list of the sector ETFs cited above, with links to summary pages at for additional research:

Consumer Discretionary (XLY)
Consumer Staples (XLP)
Energy (XLE)
Financial (XLF)
Healthcare (XLV)
Industrial (XLI)
Materials (XLB)
Technology (XLK)
Utilities (XLU)
Telecom (VOX)