Metal ETFs Open Window to Economic Horizon

The exchange-traded funds, which have gotten thrashed, are rebounding this year as investors bet on a stronger economy.
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Whether you're an economic Pollyanna expecting a recovery this year, or an economic pessimist forecasting a decade lost to rampant inflation, realists will be watching for early signs of a recovery in the prices of industrial metals and betting accordingly.

Of the 13 exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, that track industrial or base metals, seven have posted gains this year. The

iPath Dow Jones-AIG Lead Total Return Sub-Index ETN

(LD) - Get Report

has jumped 23% this year, taking the top spot. The

iPath Dow Jones AIG Copper Total Return Sub Index ETN

(JJC) - Get Report

is second, rising 19%.

TheStreet.com

Ratings scores five of the 13 funds in the "sell" range of D-plus or lower. Over the 12 months ending Feb. 27, the declines ranged from as low as 51% in

ELEMENTS Linked to the Rogers International Commodity Index -- Metals Total Return

(RJZ) - Get Report

to as much as 72% in

iPath Dow Jones AIG Nickel Total Return Sub Index ETN

(JJN) - Get Report

.

The remaining eight ETFs, including the top-performing iPath Dow Jones-AIG Lead Total Return Sub-Index ETN, are unrated by our risk-adjusted performance model. To qualify for a rating, an ETF must have at least a one-year history of total return and price volatility. Only then can there be sufficient data to compute "reward" and "risk" grades to reflect a fund's performance and volatility.

As the unrated funds have inception dates in April and June 2008, by mid-July, when we review the June 2009 data, the outlook for these funds should be clearer. Until then, the interim performance shows us that lead, copper and tin funds are outperforming aluminum and nickel funds since the end of 2008.

Kevin Baker became the senior financial analyst for TSC Ratings upon the August 2006 acquisition of Weiss Ratings by TheStreet.com, covering mutual funds. He joined the Weiss Group in 1997 as a banking and brokerage analyst. In 1999, he created the Weiss Group's first ratings to gauge the level of risk in U.S. equities. Baker received a B.S. degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an M.B.A. with a finance specialization from Nova Southeastern University.