3 Obscure Equity ETFs Trouncing SPY

Despite some recent Cyprus-induced hurdles, the S&P 500 is off to a fine start in 2013.

That much is highlighted by the 9.3 percent year-to-date gain for the SPDR S&P 500 (NYSE:SPY) and that does not include a decent showing on Tuesday.

Plenty of well-known sector ETFs have been even better, particularly those tracking consumer staples and health care names. However, investors have plenty of options regarding somewhat obscure equity-based ETFs that are handily outperforming SPY this year.

Two requirements were used for this group. First, only plain vanilla long ETFs were included. Leveraged funds were excluded. Second, all three of the ETFs featured here have outpaced SPY by at least 500 basis points this year.

SPDR S&P Transportation ETF (NYSE:XTN) Investors that look for broad transportation sector exposure via ETFs primarily head to the iShares Dow Jones Transportation Average Index Fund (NYSE:IYT). IYT is a fine ETF in its own right as evidenced by a year-to-date gain of 13 percent.

By assets under management, IY is nearly 19 times the size of the SPDR S&P Transportation ETF. That has not seemed to bother the SPDR offering, which has outpaced its iShares rival by nearly 400 basis points this year.

While it is fair to call XTN "the other transportation ETF," there are key differences between these two funds. For instance, railroads represent nearly 30 percent of IYT's weight, but just 16.6 percent of XTN's weight. XTN is more airline heavy (25.6 percent compared to 15 percent for IYT) and that could make the ETF vulnerable if oil prices spike.

First Trust Financials AlphaDEX Fund (NYSE:FXO) A disclaimer is needed when referring to the First Trust Financials AlphaDEX Fund as "obscure." The ETF has over $247 million in assets, so clearly it is not unheard or fighting to survive. FXO is merely obscure relative to a rival ETF such as the Financial Select Sector SPDR (NYSE:XLF).

Those that picked FXO over XLF at the start of the year probably are not complaining that their fund will not win any bank ETF popularity contests. The reason being is that FXO is up 14.8 percent year-to-date. Not only is that far better than SPY, it is also nearly 400 basis points better than XLF. Not to mention, FXO has been slightly less volatile than XLF. Actually, that is not a surprise.

FXO has a three-year standard deviation of 17.82 percent compared to just over 21 percent for the S&P 500 Financials Index, according to First Trust data.

Guggenheim Spin-Off ETF (NYSE:CSD) The Guggenheim Spin-Off has nearly $145 million in assets, so it meets the shallow criteria of some that erroneously consider that the mark of a "good" ETF. Regardless of that metric, CSD has been good, perhaps great this year. A gain of 17.8 percent says as much.

That performance is not a three-month flash in the pan. CSD actually has a lengthy track record of easily topping SPY. Over the past 12, 24 and 36 months, CSD has simply dominated SPY. Over the past three years, CSD is up 69 percent compared to 40.5 percent for SPY.

One thing that investors need to note about CSD to avoid disappointment is this: "The universe of companies eligible for inclusion in the Index includes companies that have been spun-off within the past 30 months (but not more recently than six months prior to the applicable re-balancing date," according to Guggenheim.

For example, CSD does not yet include recent spin-offs such as AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) and Mondelez (NASDAQ:MDLZ) among its holdings.

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