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This weekly column of highlights leading and lagging Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) and is designed to supplement the data you can find in our ETF center. The graph below is based on a select list of ETFs that I follow and reflect the returns from last Friday's close through this afternoon.

Note: If you are not familiar with the advantages that ETFs offer, make sure you read the information in our Education and FAQ sections.

Last week we saw most groups gain ground, with telecom and biotech in the lead. This week we see a more balanced picture...

This Week's Leading and Lagging Exchange Traded Funds

Broadly speaking, it was a relatively quiet week, as moves were contained to near two percent. Strength in energy and financials was offset by weakness in technology related funds.

For a longer-term perspective, the bullets below show how the ETFs listed above have faired during the past six-months, prior to this week. In other words, it shows how they had performed before this week's move.

Prior Six-Month Returns for This Week's Top Performing Sector Exchange Traded Funds:

  • Oil Service HOLDRS (OIH) +21.0%
  • PS Building & Construction (PKB) n/a
  • PS Oil Services (PXJ) n/a
  • Regional Bank HOLDRS (RKH) +6.8%
  • iShares DJ U.S. Financial Services (IYG) +9.3%
  • SPDR-Energy (XLE) +10.0%
  • PS WilderHill Clean Energy (PBW) +27.6%
  • iShares DJ U.S. Energy (IYE) +8.2%
  • PS Water Resource (PHO) n/a
  • SPDR-Financial (XLF) +9.4%
  • PS Utilities (PUI) n/a
  • iShares DJ U.S. Financial (IYF) +8.9%

Prior Six-Month Returns for This Week's Bottom Performing Sector Exchange Traded Funds:

  • PS Retail (PMR) n/a
  • Retail HOLDRS (RTH) +0.1%
  • iShares GS Technology (IGM) +7.5%
  • PS Telecom & Wireless (PTE) n/a
  • SPDR-Technology (XLK) +5.5%
  • iShares DJ U.S. Telecomm (IYZ) +5.7%
  • Wireless HOLDRS (WMH) +2.9%
  • PS Lux Nanotech (PXN) n/a
  • iShares GS Semiconductor (IGW) +14.4%
  • Semiconductor HOLDRS (SMH) +3.6%
  • Telecom HOLDRS (TTH) +8.3%
  • PS Semiconductors (PSI) +23.5%

A quick scan of the list reveals an interesting point - most groups have been gaining ground during the past six months. Given that both the Russell 2000 (RUT) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) hit new highs this week, this point probably isn't too surprising, but I thought it was still worth pointing out.

One other point worth noting is the relatively large difference in recent performance between the Semiconductor HOLDRS Trust (SMH: View sentiment for SMHsentiment, chart, options) and the PowerShares Semiconductors (PSI: View sentiment for PSIsentiment, chart, options) . It would appear that the discrepancy can be explained by the way each fund is set-up. The SMH is fairly top-heavy, with more traditional names such as Texas Instruments Incorporated (TXN: View sentiment for TXNsentiment, chart, options) , Intel (INTC: View sentiment for INTCsentiment, chart, options) , and Applied Materials (AMAT: View sentiment for AMATsentiment, chart, options) accounting for nearly half its weighting. Meanwhile, the PSI shows a more balanced weighting, and focuses on the small names such as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD: View sentiment for AMDsentiment, chart, options) , Broadcom (BRCM: View sentiment for BRCMsentiment, chart, options) , and Micron Technology (MU: View sentiment for MUsentiment, chart, options) . This difference is something to keep in mind if you are looking to trade the group.

In last week's column I noted that the Telecom HOLDRS Trust (TTH: View sentiment for TTHsentiment, chart, options) had pushed into resistance, stating that the short-term overbought condition may make it difficult to push above resistance at this time. This week's pullback is starting to alleviate that overbought condition. I also wanted to note the excerpt below from yesterday's Trading Floor Blog that I thought you might be interested in seeing...

...I have been digging into the iShares Telecommunications Sector Index Fund (IYZ: View sentiment for IYZsentiment, chart, options) . Check out the monthly chart...

Monthly chart of the IYZ
Created with SuperCharts by Omega Research

The telecom group was hit hard in the aftermath of the tech bubble, but finally found its footing in mid-2002. The IYZ spent 2003 and 2004 in a grinding uptrend and then consolidated those gains last year as the shares traded in a narrow range. Now, the sector appears to be showing signs of life again as the IYZ tries to break above the top of last year's range.

What piqued my interest in this move is that the Street is mostly on the sidelines. I pulled analyst ratings from Zacks and found that the top 15 stocks, which account for 90 percent of the IYZ weighting, are relatively underloved. Of the 180 total ratings, only 62 (34 percent) are "buys". (A list of the component stocks can be found here.)

Of course, regular readers of our site might note that there is a fly in the bullish ointment. As I pointed out in my most recent ETF column, the Telecom HOLDRS (TTH: View sentiment for TTHsentiment, chart, options) has yet to push above resistance. Also, a few of the individual stock charts leave something to be desired in terms of "clean" trends.

However, even with these "issues", I think the group is worth keeping an eye on...

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