NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The SPDR passive sector funds rank among the most widely used ETFs. Popular choices include Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF), with $10.1 billion in assets, and Technology Select Sector SPDR (XLK), with $8.9 billion. But investors might get better returns by considering the sector funds of SPDR's crosstown Boston competitor, Fidelity Investments. Many of the Fidelity funds -- which are actively managed -- have outpaced the index funds by wide margins.
During the past five years, Fidelity Select Materials (FSDPX) returned 9.0% annually, compared to 3.2% for Materials Select Sector SPDR (XLB). Fidelity Select Industrials (FCYIX) returned 8.3%, compared to 4.9% for Industrial Select Sector SPDR (XLI).
Other Fidelity funds that surpassed competing SPDR ETFs by more than 2 percentage points include Fidelity Select Health Care (FSPH), Fidelity Select Technology (FSPTX), and Fidelity Select Biotechnology (FBIOX).
The Fidelity funds are not newcomers. Fidelity was a pioneer in the sector business, introducing its first industry funds in the early 1980s. Today the company has 41 sector funds. The group includes such narrow choices as Fidelity Select Insurance (FSPCX) and Fidelity Select Chemicals (FSCHX). Financial advisors have long used the sector funds to implement trading strategies. But in recent years, the Fidelity funds have been overshadowed by ETFs.The ETFs have some clear advantages, including low expense ratios. The SPDR sector funds have expense ratios of around 0.18%, while the Fidelity funds charge about 0.81%. As actively managed portfolios, the Fidelity funds can sometimes miss the target. Fidelity Select Energy (FSENX) and Fidelity Select Consumer Staples (FDFAX) have trailed comparable SPDR funds. But Fidelity's active managers have the freedom to overweight their top picks, an advantage that often results in strong results. A compelling choice is Fidelity Select Technology. During the past five years, the fund returned 9.3% annually, compared to 6.6% for Technology Select Sector SPDR.