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Best-Performing ETFs Invest in Real Estate

The best-performing ETFs in April held real estate and commodities stocks, signaling a bottom in the economy.

The best-performing exchange-traded funds signal a bottoming in two key areas of the U.S. economy: real estate and commodities. The ETFs also point to a bottom-fishing expedition in value stocks.

After excluding the 20 ETFs that use leverage, 10 of the 25 best-performing funds in April invest in real estate.

Pending sales of existing U.S. homes rose in April for the second month in a row, showing buyers are locking in prices that are cheaper than at any time in a generation. Add to that a gain in construction spending bolstered by commercial and government stimulus projects, and the foundation is laid for an upturn.

Of the real estate funds, none performed better than the

iShares FTSE NAREIT Retail Capped Index Fund

(RTL) - Get Necessity Retail REIT, Inc. Class A Report

. The fund returned 51% as four of its holdings more than doubled in value, including 236% from

CBL & Associates

(CBL) - Get CBL & Associates Properties, Inc. Report

, 180% from

Macerich

(MAC) - Get Macerich Company Report

, 118% from

Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust

(PEI) - Get Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust Report

and 106% in

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Cedar Shopping Centers

(CDR) - Get Cedar Realty Trust Inc Report

.

Another big winner in April, the

PowerShares FTSE RAFI Basic Materials Sector Portfolio

(PRFM)

jumped nearly 38%, the top performer of the six commodity funds making the list. Holdings contributing to the ascent include a 113% jump from

Ashland

(ASH) - Get Ashland Global Holdings, Inc. Report

, 92% from

Domtar

(UFS) - Get Domtar Corporation Report

and 90% from

Dow Chemical

(DOW) - Get Dow, Inc. Report

.

The other five commodity funds making the list focus on coal, timber and steel. All are positioned to be early beneficiaries of a renewal in demand during an economic recovery.

Commodity funds experienced a freefall, collapsing as much as 62%, since my September article on

Five Commodity ETFs to Avoid

. After bouncing along the bottom for a few months, commodity funds present an attractive bet on an economic recovery and offer an inflation hedge.

The best-performing, non-leveraged ETF in April was one of four value-stock funds, the

Rydex S&P Smallcap 600 Pure Value ETF

(RZV) - Get Invesco S&P Smallcap 600 Pure Value ETF Report

, up almost 52%. Sixteen holdings more than doubled in value, with

Sonic Automotive

(SAH) - Get Sonic Automotive, Inc. Class A Report

, up 223%;

Ruby Tuesday

(RT)

, up 163%; and

OfficeMax

(OMX)

, up 132%, as investors snapped up good companies previously mauled by the bear market for stocks.

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.