The financials ETF space offers the second most choices of any sector bet behind technology ETFs, with more than 30 offerings, and some other bets are doing well also, though they don't tend to attract much in the way of assets from investors.
Several other financial stock niches are beating the broader equity market in 2015, according to performance data from KBW's family of financial stock indexes, some of which have ETF counterparts.
KBW financials indexes performance 2015
- KBW Mortgage Finance Index: 8.13 percent
- KBW Property & Casualty Index: 3.97 percent
- KBW Financial Sector Dividend Yield Index: 3.82 percent
- KBW Capital Markets Index: 1.55 percent
- KBW Regional Banking Index: 1.39 percent
- KBW Insurance Index: 0.37 percent
(Source: KBW, data through April 6)
Year-to-date, four of those six indexes beat the S&P 500 return of roughly 1.4 percent year-to-date (KBW Regional Banking is running neck-and-neck with the broader market while the insurance index has lagged because life insurance companies trade with long-term bonds due to the long-lived nature of their assets. When the 10-year is below 2 percent, the bond market will drag down life insurance stocks, which have large weightings in the insurance index.
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Mortgage index has surprised this year because bond yields went down against expectations, and more than people expected. Coming into the year, people thought mortgage rates would be rising, putting a damper on refinancing activity.
Cannon said the Capital Markets Index—which includes all of the brokers—has done well, in part, because the beginning of the year has been volatile and the brokers and exchanges tend to outperform in these situations. There is such a thing as "good volatility," Cannon said, so short periods of the market moving up and down a lot are good for these firms, as long as it does not lead to investors bailing on the market entirely.
Dutram said that even though it's clear that "U.S. financials sort of fell out of favor for a few months and the funds are losing assets," once interest rates do rise, investors will take another look at the space. "We saw lots of interest in biotech, and it's been a strong performing segment, but if we see sector rotation, there could be a little more interest for regional bank and other U.S. rate plays," Dutram said.