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Fears that U.S. consumers are beginning to tighten their belts eased last week when investors learned that consumer credit surged by more than $19 billion during the final month of 2011. Analysts had been calling for a far more conservative increase.
This reading is encouraging, but investors should avoid becoming complacent. At the start of the week, we will learn more about how the consumer is faring when retail sales numbers come through the wire.
XRT may be the best bet for those looking for a pure play on the retail industry. Investors looking to take a more conservative approach to U.S. spending habits, however, should turn their attention to a product like the
iShares Dow Jones U.S. Consumer Goods Index Fund(IYK). A catch-all, IYK exposes investors to a collection of companies responsible for producing both "needs" and "wants." This fund's strategy is particularly attractive during questionable periods.
iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures ETN(VXX)
Fear made a comeback late last week as Europe's debt woes fell back into focus. In response, ETNs related to the VIX index powered higher. VXX, for instance, enjoyed four consecutive days of positive action, the longest string of gains since the end of last summer and one that has helped it recover all of its February losses.
Dramatic swings like this are not unusual for this inherently volatile product. Conservative investors should steer clear.
iShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index Fund(ITB)
Investors have witnessed some encouraging news regarding the state of the battered housing market. This week, more real estate-related clues will be uncovered with new housing starts and the NAHB Housing Market Index reading on tap.
We have seen some encouraging signs of an improving real estate market. However, I continue to encourage investors to look beyond homebuilders for exposure to this sector. The residential housing industry is still plagued by crippling inventory issues which will likely present challenges down the road. REIT-dedicated funds like the
iShares Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate Index Fund(IYR) boasts attractive dividends that will help protect against a potential upheaval.