The first week of December 2007 is unlikely to be remembered for the storms ripping across the nation or the legions of presidential candidates enduring the same in their quest of primary votes.
Instead, what sticks in people's minds will be a video clip of a young chimpanzee who can memorize a string of digits and touch blank boxes representing them in precise numeric sequence on a video screen at a pace that leaves even the most video-game-addicted human far in the dust.
The investment industry could have used the chimp, as it was arguably the only living creature fast enough to keep pace with the changing leadership in the stock markets over the past week. The week ended Dec. 6, in short, was one marked by sector rotation of supersonic velocity. Market leadership during the week changed faster than that of a gaggle of geese on a migration flight.
REITs were replaced by technology, which in turn surrendered to finance, which then allowed Asia a moment of leadership. Small-caps shone briefly and then yielded the floor to telecommunications, which handed the baton to utilities and then the mortgage group, which, in turn, was caught in a dead-cat bounce by homebuilders.
When the dust finally settled and all the drafting and passing ended, it turned out to be a good week across the board for virtually all market sectors.
Possibly the biggest surprise was the energy/natural resources sector, which moved ahead strongly despite interim weakness in the price of crude oil. After toying with an unprecedented $100 per barrel in recent weeks, crude skidded below $90 and spent much of the week in the $88 range. It finally moved back to end the period roughly where it started -- within a breath of $90.
Much of the early-week decline in crude was triggered by hints that the Saudis would lobby for a boost in production at the OPEC meeting. When the oil cartel decided to keep a lid of production, the price of crude actually dipped momentarily below $87.50 before finally edging back to the $90 range.
But energy investments stayed strong, with the Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Index up 2.92% for the week. Contributing to the gain were advances of 3.20% in the Dow's Integrated Oil & Gas Subindex and 2.96% in the Oil & Gas Producers grouping. The Oil Equipment & Services Subindex helped boost the sector by pulling ahead 2.78%.
As is now almost always the case in every category, leveraged funds monopolized the top of the list of performs the energy/natural resources sector.
ProShares Ultra Oil & Gas
, an exchange-traded fund that seeks daily investment returns of 200% of the Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Index, returned 9.05% during the week.
Claymore MACROshares Oil Up
, another ETF that tracks trends in oil prices, came in second, returning 6.94% for the week.
Following closely at its heels was the
ProFunds Oil & Gas UltraSector (ENPIX), an open-end fund that seeks 150% of the daily performance of the Dow Jones Oil & Gas Index. It returned 6.64%.
The accompanying table of winners for the week also includes two funds that invest in energy infrastructure and one natural resources fund in the forest products area.
Also, as is now virtually universally the case, "inverse" performers populate the low-performing end of the adjoining roster of sorest losers in the group.
Claymore MACROshares Oil Down
, the sister ETF to the number two fund on the winners' list, was the worst performer, losing 11.37% during the week.
ProShares Ultra Short Oil & Gas
trailed with a loss of 7.96%, followed by
ProFunds Short Oil & Gas(SNPIX), with a loss of 4.19%.
However, six of the bottom funds focus their investments outside the crude oil domain. Two are natural gas investment vehicles and another pair are diversified commodity funds.
Rounding out the worst performers is a nickel fund an another that links its fate on copper.
Richard Widows is a financial analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, 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.