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How Different Sector ETFs Are Reacting to Fiscal Cliff Fears

NEW YORK ( ETF Expert) -- Many of us in the financial services industry expected the outcome of the election to be determined by Ohio alone. Perhaps surprisingly, while Ohio was close throughout the evening, there was never a need for recounting the "Buckeye State" ballots; President Obama had won the electoral votes needed without a single-state showdown.

While a protracted battle for control of the White House could have unhinged market participants, the possibility quickly gave way to the more pressing "fiscal cliff." The cessation of scores of tax breaks combined with automatic spending cuts can be credited with enormous selling pressure across the risk spectrum on Wednesday, the day after the election.

Unlike election uncertainty, however, market watchers have been warning about the ramifications of a prolonged fiscal debate for months. Recently, I identified three broad ETF categories that are less troubled by the partisan divide on on tax extensions and budgetary belt-tightening.

Now, though, investors have been running for the hills. Other than risk-off bond choices, there's very little in the positive column.

That said, it may be instructive to view how the different economic segments are faring. Indeed, not every stock ETF is down as much as the broader S&P 500 SPDR Trust (SPY), off 2.3%:

Vanguard Real Estate Investment Trust REIT (VNQ), -0.5%

SPDR Select Consumer Staples (XLP), -1.2%

SPDR Select Consumer Discretionary (XLY), -1.2%

SPDR Select Materials (XLB), -1.5%

SPDR Select Health Care (XLV), -1.7%

SPDR Select Utilities (XLU), -2.2%

Vanguard Telecom (VOX), -2.4%

SPDR Select Technology (XLK), -2.4%

SPDR Select Industrials (XLI), -2.5%

SPDR Select Biotech (XBI), -2.5%

SPDR Select Energy (XLE), -2.8%

SPDR Select Financials (XLF), -3.5%

As one might anticipate, most of the economically sensitive sectors have been getting hit the hardest. Energy (XLE), Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF) and Technology (XLK) have taken the brunt of the risk-off activity.

There are several areas that may represent pockets of opportunity. For example, few areas of the market have been ravaged more by weak domestic and weak global demand than Materials (XLB). Why, then, should this sector behave a bit like a non-cyclical segment?

There are two possibilities. First, more and more folks believe in the probability of a resilient China. The more Chinese demand for "stuff," the better XLB performs. Indeed, the series of "higher lows" in September, October and November for the XLB:SPY price ratio is a sign of relative strength in the materials arena.

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