10 Leading ETFs in the First Half of 2019

(U.S. News & World Report) Some of the best ETFs so far this year.

It has been an interesting year for investors, featuring broader stock market indices putting up big-time gains despite plenty of gloomy headlines about a slowing U.S. economy and risks of a global trade war. Across the first six months of the year, the S&P 500 index has surged 20% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 has jumped more than 24%. But as the saying goes, it's a market of stocks and not simply a stock market. Some stocks have done significantly worse and some have done significantly better. Here are 10 exchange-traded funds that exemplify what investment themes are working best through the first half of 2019.

United States Gasoline Fund (ticker: UGA)

If you filled up the tank for a trip lately, you've probably noticed that prices at the pump are up compared to Christmastime. Sure, the average price per gallon is still down from recent highs around $3 a gallon nationwide to around $2.75 a gallon according to AAA, but they are up significantly since Jan. 1 when the average was closer to $2.30. Perhaps unsurprisingly, someone has created an exchange-traded product that will allow investors to capitalize on the ups and downs of gasoline prices. That would be UGA, which is up handily year-to-date in 2019 thanks to a big recovery in gas prices over the last six months.

First-half 2019 return: 34%

Renaissance IPO ETF (IPO)

While some big-name IPOs, such as rideshare Lyft (LYFT), haven't lived up to expectations in 2019, plenty of other offerings have done just fine. And with a diversified portfolio of more than 60 recently minted names, including high-flying marijuana player Tilray (TLRY) and streaming audio provider Spotify Technology (SPOT), there have been plenty of profits to go around for IPO investors. This ETF holds IPOs for roughly two years, which will allow investors to cash in if and when some of these recent disappointments get some mojo back in the months ahead. Just remember that newly offered stocks are notoriously volatile and there's still plenty of risk of declines, too.

First-half 2019 return: 35%

Global X MSCI China Consumer Staples ETF (CHIS)

For all the talk about a trade war with China hurting that nation's exporters, one important investment opportunity in the region is the on-shore consumer staples industry. Local farm conglomerates simply worry about milking their herds with Chinese-made machinery and selling the cheese at local supermarkets to Chinese customers. Who cares about the U.S. in this equation? As a result, components in CHIS have done quite well as booming consumer demand lifts staples stocks. Many of these names are unknown to Western investors, however their potential is clear – and this diversified Global X ETF allows for easy access to these investments.

First-half 2019 return: 37%

Global X MSCI Argentina ETF (ARGT)

Argentina is one of the most troubled economic regions in the world, with threats of a currency crisis over the last several years after runaway inflation and a recent energy crisis that has featured rolling blackouts. However, investors are optimistic in the run-up to an all-important October election. And as the nation's agricultural sector has done well, the Argentine peso has rallied strongly and lifted stocks in the region. There is a lot of risk here, to be sure, but the performance thus far has been there in 2019 for ARGT.

First-half 2019 return: 37%

Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy ETF (PBW)

Though some debate the risks of climate change, the energy sector has been ambitiously pivoting away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy. According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy has surpassed coal power sources on the U.S. grid. As a result, clean energy stocks are surging. These are among the companies that make up PBW, including industrial stocks that help build "smart" power grids to accommodate these sources as well as innovators like Hydrogenics Corp. (HYGS) that builds hydrogen fuel cell technology.

First-half 2019 return: 37%

Invesco DWA Technology Momentum ETF (PTF)

The technology sector has done quite well in 2019, and as a result, this Invesco fund has done even better. That's because its momentum-focused strategy layers on technical analysis to select roughly 40 of the best stocks in the Nasdaq based on metrics such as relative strength to their peers. That means instead of the usual big tech firms, you get a share of high fliers such as mobile payments firm Paycom Software (PAYC) or big data play MongoDB (MDB), tapping into smaller stocks with a bit more risk but a lot more upside based on first-half performance.

First-half 2019 return: 38%

Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF (GREK)

A poster child for problems in the euro zone back in 2011, things have improved considerably for Greece. Economic growth is running at about a 2% annual rate, in-line with major Western powers, and previous bank bail-outs are now in the rear-view mirror. There is still a large amount of public debt in the region, but a return to economic growth coupled with some serious cuts made during the depths of the crisis should help the nation weather the storm. And judging by the performance of Greek equities in 2019, investors seem to believe this rebound isn't temporary.

First-half 2019 return: 38%

ARK Genomic Revolution Multi-Sector ETF (ARKG)

While health care stocks are quite popular among low-risk investors, since people get sick in both bull and bear markets, biotechnology stocks offer the promise of a bit more volatility but a lot more growth potential. These ambitious companies are researching gene therapies, stem cell treatments and other next-generation cures. With top holdings like Illumina (ILMN) and Invitae Corp. (NVTA), this fund is a one-stop shop to play some of the biggest names in biotech. And as this sector has surged, it's been a great way to profit so far in 2019.

First-half 2019 return: 41%

Invesco Solar ETF (TAN)

As seen with the PBW fund, the push toward renewable energy sources has benefited companies in these sectors. But TAN is laser-focused on solar stocks such as First Solar (FSLR) and SolarEdge Technoliges (SEDG), which have been among the best performers on Wall Street this year. Solar has historically been a volatile corner of the market, and it's worth noting that TAN only has 22 holdings in total so you may want to simply pick a few of your favorites. Still, the strength of this sector ETF in the first half is impressive.

First-half 2019 return: 52%

VelocityShares 1X Daily Inverse VSTOXX Futures ETN (EXIV)

This VelocityShares fund is not leveraged, but it is still incredibly complex. In a nutshell, it is comprised of options based on the Euro Stoxx 50 index, with the goal of reflecting short-term volatility in European equities. So while the Euro Stoxx 50 has done pretty well this year, more importantly, it has been incredibly choppy with big single-day swings thanks to all the political uncertainty in conjunction with Brexit and elections for the European Parliament. And since volatility has been up in a big way, so has EXIV.

First-half 2019 return: 76%

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