NEW YORK (ETF Expert) -- It may not take much to send the markets down these days. A profit miss by Google (GOOG). A weak revenue showing by McDonalds (MCD). Or perhaps the most detrimental data point of last week: a 1.7% year-over-year decline in existing-home sales.With interest rates as low as they are, properties have become increasingly affordable. Yet existing homeowners who are marginally underwater may actually become more entrenched; that is, they are less likely to put their homes up for sale when they anticipate additional price gains that could soon make a home-seller's decision profitable. In essence, existing owners will wait until they can exit the "distressed" seller category and enter the normal home-seller segment. Unfortunately, the housing sector cannot fully recover unless the sellers become as active as the buyers; that is, the latter may be excited by rock-bottom rates, but the former are hoping for additional price appreciation that may or may not occur. With its mid-September commitment to purchasing mortgage-backed securities indefinitely ($40 billion per month), the Federal Reserve made it abundantly clear that it ties job growth and economic recovery to a real estate revival. Any hitch in the real estate recovery story seems to severely shake investor faith. In fact, in spite of continued month-over-month momentum in the homebuilder sector, investors have been backing away from the idea that the added Fed stimulus will be a net positive for corporate profitability, sales and/or new hires. Woes at Apple and Google have sent shares of Vanguard Information Technology ( VGT) down sharply over the last month. The producers that pull materials from the earth and send it to big industrial players are not receiving much love either. State Street SPDR Select Sector Industrials ( XLI) as well as iShares DJ Materials ( IYM) have posted negative numbers for the past 30 days as well.
And it's not just a number of sector ETFs that are having a hard time since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke shocked and awed the financial world. In reality, growth-oriented small companies are feeling the sting, as evidenced by the poor showing of iShares Russell 2000 Growth ( IWO). Similarly, corporations tied to the well-being of the economic cycle have also been sputtering, as evidenced by weakness in PowerShares S&P 500 High Beta ( SPHB). Need a nail in the proverbial coffin? On a month-over-month basis, investors appear to have rotated back into safer, less-volatile segments since the Fed went beyond confirming QE3 rumors to announce open-ended mortgage purchasing with money it will print electronically. Leadership is coming from utilities, tracked by the Select Sector Utility SPDR ( XLU); health care, tracked by the Select Sector Health Care SPDR ( XLV); and the ever-so-tame S&P 500 Low Volatility Fund ( SPLV). (I included these three ETFs in the table on the preceding page.) Does this mean that the Fed's initiative to revive a stagnant economy will fail? I don't think anyone can predict the future. That said, investors for the most part bought the central bank reflation rumors in July and have been selling the news in September and October. In my estimation, the best risk-reward ETFs reside in the middle of the spectrum. Assets that have relatively wide historical yield spreads with comparable Treasuries are still attractive. This includes vehicles like iShares Intermediate Corporate Credit ( CIU), iShares Emerging Market Corporate ( EMB), PowerShares Emerging Market Sovereign ( PCY) and PowerShares Preferred ( PGX). Additionally, Asia Pacific ETFs are still in a "buy the rumor" stage. In essence, China has plenty of wiggle room on both fiscal and monetary policy while investors expect that China will take action to stimulate its economy. Not surprisingly, some of the best month-over-month performers are Asia Pacific ETFs, including iShares MSCI Philippines ( EPHE), iShares MSCI New Zealand ( ENZL) and iShares MSCI Malaysia ( EWM). Consider getting ahead of the curve with China's neighbors.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage. Follow @ETFexpert