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ETFs With the Longest Winning Streaks

Only two can boast that they beat the S&P 500 for the past seven years.

Last week I looked at mutual funds with the longest track records of beating the market or staying in positive territory.

There aren't as many honors to go around in the exchange-traded fund industry: Dec. 31, 2010, will be the earliest possible date for any to lay claim to 10 consecutive years of outperforming the

S&P 500

total-return index.

It shouldn't be surprising that no ETFs can currently boast such a long winning streak, because there were just 19 of these products in existence a decade ago that could potentially qualify.

And diminishing the probability of an ETF getting 10 consecutive years of topping the S&P three years hence is that only two members of that genus currently enjoy seven-year streaks of bettering the gauge.

The duo of index-toppers in the accompanying table suffered negative returns in calendar 2002, but each still outpaced the S&P that year by limiting their losses to lower magnitudes than the index.

Both of the funds made up for their respective 2002 dip by racking up double-digit gains in each of the past five calendar years.

What about funds that can boast long streaks of positive annual returns, even if they haven't beaten the S&P?

The longest extant among ETFs is the

iShares MSCI South Korea Index Fund


, with seven consecutive years of positive returns. The fund, which debuted on May 9, 2000, has achieved a positive annual return for every full calendar year of its existence.

Because the fund's 2006 advance of 11.14% slightly trailed the S&P's gain of 15.80% for that year, it did not qualify for the adjoining list of index beaters.

EWY's largest holdings are

Samsung Electronics

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The ETF with the second-longest winning streak is

the iShares MSCI Austria Index Fund


, which has scored positive returns during each of the past six years. Its slender 1.69% performance for calendar 2007 trailed the S&P's gain for the year.

EWO's largest holdings are

Erste Bank der Oster Spark




Even if an ETF achieves a 10-year winning streak vs. the S&P within the next few years, no comparisons should be made with the remarkable record of relative gains achieved by Bill Miller in navigating

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the Legg Mason Value Trust (LMVTX) to 15 straight years of bettering the S&P.

Because all ETFs are currently passively managed, any credit should go the fund's architect -- its designers -- rather than to the building superintendent -- its manager.

Editor's note: The author holds a long-term position in the iShares MSCI South Korea Index Fund.

Richard Widows is a financial analyst for Ratings. Prior to joining, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.