This column was originally published on RealMoney
on May 1 at 12:00 p.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers. For more information about subscribing to RealMoney,
Exchange-traded funds are multiplying faster than bunnies on a hot spring day. These specialized stocks have fundamentally altered the financial markets, with a sizable percentage of all volume now passing through them directly, or through their underlying components. This powerful trend is likely to continue in upcoming years.
The broad variety of ETFs ensures that market movement in both directions gets stretched beyond its natural limits. Consider how a downdraft in the Nasdaq 100 Trust (QQQQ) exerts an immediate pull on its component stocks. Traders take note of this selling pressure and dump noncomponents, as well, to get out of the way of the falling market.
The iShares Malaysia Index Fund (EWM) got caught in the late February selloff, dropping 15% in one day. But that ugly session also marked the low for this strong performer. Price recovered through March and returned to the high about three weeks ago. It hovered there for a few bars and then broke out to a nine-year high. That rally stalled at 11.86, with price dropping into a triangle pattern. It looks like this consolidation is almost over, and the stock will resume its uptrend soon. Readers can buy the breakout or build positions within the triangle as long as they place stop losses under the 50-day moving average. The strong uptrend should continue into the upper teens. The iShares Mexico Index Fund (EWW) has been in a powerful uptrend since 2003, rising from 11 to over 50. The last leg of its rally topped out at 56 in February, with the stock selling off with the world markets in the first quarter. Price recovered back to the high in early April. It nosed above it a week later and dropped into a rectangle pattern. Watch the edges of this trading range to determine the stock's short-term direction. A rally above 57.70 will set the uptrend back into motion, while a selloff below 55 could trigger a test of support at the 50-day moving average, currently near 54.40. The stock needs to hold that level for the bullish pattern to stay intact. The utilities sector has been an outstanding performer in recent weeks. This is confirmed by the SPDR Select Sector Utilities ETF (XLU), which is currently trading at an all-time high after breaking above February resistance at 40.30. The sharp move following the breakout didn't offer good entry points, so the current downturn is relatively good news. Weakening relative-strength indicators predict this stock could pull back for a few weeks in order to consolidate its recent gains. An orderly decline to breakout support near 40 would be a good place, and price, to get on board for a renewed uptrend that presses above the recent high and heads into the mid 40s. The iShares Russell 2000 Growth Index Fund (IWO) is a subset of the broad Russell 2000 small-cap index, focusing on growth issues. The ETF rallied to an all-time high at 86.50 in 2000 and pulled back during the bear market. It rallied to within 2 points of that high last week and sold off on Monday. The current pullback should tell the tale. Look for support to come in between the 50-day moving average and "round number" 80. A bounce there should set up a strong run that tests the multiyear high. In turn, that might yield a larger-scale breakout that lifts this ETF into the mid 90s. Powershares Water Resource Portfolio ETF (PHO) is a surprisingly liquid fund that focuses on bottled water and water-treatment facilities. The stock rallied to an all-time high last May and dropped into a mild correction. It bounced in July and rallied through resistance on strong volume in February before selling off with the broad market. Price nosed above the February high last week and pulled back during Monday's downturn. Look for this ETF to outperform in any market weakness because it's an obvious defensive play. If it can hold above 19 here, buyers should step in and start the next leg in a rally that reaches into the low 20s by early summer.