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Best ETFs for February 2024

As of February 01, 2024

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) allow investors to buy a collection of stocks or other assets in just one fund with (usually) low expenses, and they trade on an exchange like stocks. ETFs have become tremendously popular in the last decade and now hold trillions of dollars in assets. With literally thousands of ETFs to choose from, where does an investor start? Below are some of the top ETFs by category, including some highly specialized funds.

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Top equity ETFs

Equity ETFs provide exposure to a portfolio of publicly traded stocks, and may be divided into several categories by where the stock is listed, the size of the company, whether it pays a dividend or what sector it’s in. So investors can find the kind of stock funds they want exposure to and buy only stocks that meet certain criteria.

Stock ETFs tend to be more volatile than other kinds of investments such as CDs or bonds, but they’re suitable for long-term investors looking to build wealth. Some of the most popular equity ETF sectors and their historical performance (as of Jan. 31, 2024) include:

Top U.S. market-cap index ETFs

This kind of ETF gives investors broad exposure to publicly traded companies listed on American exchanges using a passive investment approach that tracks a major index such as the S&P 500 or Nasdaq 100.

Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)

  • 2024 YTD performance: 3.3 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 14.8 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.03 percent

Top international ETFs

This kind of ETF can provide targeted exposure to international publicly traded companies broadly or by more specific geographic areas, such as Asia, Europe or emerging markets. Investing in foreign companies introduces concerns such as currency risk and governance risks, since foreign countries may not offer the same protections for investors as the U.S. does.

Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF (VEA)

  • 2024 YTD performance: -0.5 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 6.8 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.05 percent

Top sector ETFs

This kind of ETF gives investors a way to buy stock in specific industries, such as consumer staples, energy, financials, healthcare, technology and more. These ETFs are typically passive, meaning they track a specific preset index of stocks and simply mechanically follow the index.

Vanguard Information Technology ETF (VGT)

  • 2024 YTD performance: 4.2 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 24.1 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.10 percent

Dividend ETFs

This kind of ETF gives investors a way to buy only stocks that pay a dividend. A dividend ETF is usually passively managed, meaning it mechanically tracks an index of dividend-paying firms. This kind of ETF is usually more stable than a total market ETF, and it may be attractive to those looking for investments that produce income, such as retirees.

The best dividend ETFs tend to offer higher returns and low cost.

Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG)

  • 2024 YTD performance: 2.3 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 13.1 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.06 percent

Top bond ETFs

A bond ETF provides exposure to a portfolio of bonds, which are often divided into sub-sectors depending on bond type, their issuer, maturity and other factors, allowing investors to buy exactly the kind of bonds they want. Bonds pay out interest on a schedule, and the ETF passes this income on to holders.

Bond ETFs can be an attractive holding for those needing the safety of regular income, such as retirees. Some of the most popular bond ETF sectors and their returns include:

Long-term bond ETFs

This kind of bond ETF gives exposure to bonds with a long maturity, perhaps as long as 30 years out. Long-term bond ETFs are most exposed to changes in interest rates, so if rates move higher or lower, these ETFs will move inversely to the direction of rates. While these ETFs may pay a higher yield than shorter-term bond ETFs, many don’t see the reward as worthy of the risk.

iShares MBS ETF (MBB)

  • 2024 YTD performance: 5.1 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 0.3 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.04 percent

Short-term bond ETFs

This kind of bond ETF gives exposure to bonds with a short maturity, typically no more than a few years. These bond ETFs won’t move much in response to changes to interest rates, meaning they’re relatively low risk. These ETFs can be a more attractive option than owning the bonds directly because the fund is highly liquid and more diversified than any individual bond.

Vanguard Short-Term Bond ETF (BSV)

  • 2024 YTD performance: -0.8 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): -0.1 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.04 percent

Total bond market ETFs

This kind of bond ETF gives investors exposure to a wide selection of bonds, diversified by type, issuer, maturity and region. A total bond market ETF provides a way to gain broad bond exposure without going too heavy in one direction, making it a way to diversify a stock-heavy portfolio.

Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND)

  • 2024 YTD performance: -0.6 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 0.9 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.03 percent

Municipal bond ETFs

This kind of bond ETF gives exposure to bonds issued by states and cities, and interest on these bonds is typically tax-free, though it’s lower than that paid by other issuers. Muni bonds have traditionally been one of the safest areas of the bond market, though if you own out-of-state munis in a fund, you will lose the tax benefits in your home state, though not at the federal level. Given the tax advantages, it is advantageous to consider a municipal bond ETF that invests in your state of residence.

iShares National Muni Bond ETF (MUB)

  • 2024 YTD performance: -0.2 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 2.1 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.05 percent

Top balanced ETFs

A balanced ETF owns both stock and bonds, and it targets a certain exposure to stock, which is often reflected in its name. These funds allow investors to have the long-term returns of stocks while reducing some of the risk with bonds, which tend to be more stable. A balanced ETF may be more suitable for long-term investors who may be a bit more conservative but need growth in their portfolio.

iShares Core Aggressive Allocation ETF (AOA)

  • 2024 YTD performance: 1.0 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 8.6 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.15 percent

Top commodity ETFs

A commodity ETF gives investors a way to own specific commodities, including agricultural goods, oil, precious metals and others without having to transact in the futures markets. The ETF may own the commodity directly or via futures contracts. Commodities tend to be quite volatile, so they may not be well-suited for all investors. However, these ETFs may allow more advanced investors to diversify their holdings, hedge out exposure to a given commodity in their other investments or make a directional bet on the price of a given commodity. The best-performing gold ETFs tend to offer highly effective portfolio diversification with added defensive stores of value.

SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)

  • 2024 YTD performance: -1.4 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 8.6 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.40 percent

Top currency ETFs

A currency ETF gives investors exposure to a specific currency by simply buying an ETF rather than accessing the foreign exchange (forex) markets. Investors can gain access to some of the world’s most widely traded currencies, including the U.S. Dollar, the Euro, the British Pound, the Swiss Franc, the Japanese Yen and more. These ETFs are more suitable for advanced investors who may be seeking a way to hedge out exposure to a specific currency in their other investments or to simply make a directional bet on the value of a currency.

Invesco DB US Dollar Index Bullish Fund (UUP)

  • 2024 YTD performance: 2.5 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 3.7 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.75 percent

Top real estate ETFs (REIT ETFs)

Real estate ETFs usually focus on holding stocks classified as REITs, or real estate investment trusts. REITs are a convenient way to own an interest in companies that own and manage real estate, and REITs operate in many sectors of the market, including residential, commercial, industrial, lodging, cell towers, medical buildings and more. REITs typically pay out substantial dividends, which are then passed on to the holders of the ETF. These payouts make REITs and REIT ETFs particularly popular among those who need income, especially retirees. The best ETF REITs maximize dividend yields, as dividends are the main reason for investing in them.

Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ)

  • 2024 YTD performance: -4.1 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 4.3 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.12 percent

Top volatility ETFs

ETFs even allow investors to bet on the volatility of the stock market through what are called volatility ETFs. Volatility is measured by the CBOE Volatility Index, commonly known as the VIX. Volatility usually rises when the market is falling and investors become uneasy, so a volatility ETF can be a way to hedge your investment in the market, helping to protect it. Because of how they’re structured, they’re best-suited for traders looking for short-term moves in the market, not long-term investors looking to profit from a rise in volatility.

iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures (VXX)

  • 2024 YTD performance: -7.2 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): -52.4 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.89 percent

Top leveraged ETFs

A leveraged ETF goes up in value more rapidly than the index it’s tracking, and a leveraged ETF may target a gain that’s two or even three times higher than the daily return on its index. For example, a triple-leveraged ETF based on the S&P 500 should rise 3 percent on a day the index rises 1 percent. A double leveraged ETF would target a double return. Because of how leveraged ETFs are structured, they’re best-suited for traders looking for short-term returns on the target index over a few days, rather than long-term investors.

ProShares UltraPro QQQ (TQQQ)

  • 2024 YTD performance: 10.3 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): 38.5 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.88 percent

Top inverse ETFs

Inverse ETFs go up in value when the market declines, and they allow investors to buy one fund that inversely tracks a specific index such as the S&P 500 or Nasdaq 100. These ETFs may target the exact inverse performance of the index, or they may try to offer two or three times the performance, like a leveraged ETF. For example, if the S&P 500 fell 2 percent in a day, a triple inverse should rise about 6 percent that day. Because of how they’re structured, inverse ETFs are best-suited for traders looking to capitalize on short-term declines in an index.

ProShares Short S&P 500 ETF (SH)

  • 2024 YTD performance: -2.5 percent
  • Historical performance (annual over 5 years): -14.3 percent
  • Expense ratio: 0.88 percent

How to invest in ETFs

It’s relatively easy to invest in ETFs, and this fact makes them popular with investors. You can buy and sell them on an exchange like a regular stock. Here’s how to invest in an ETF:

1. Find which ETF you want to buy

You have a choice of more than 3,000 ETFs trading in the U.S., so you’ll have to sift through the funds to determine which one you want to buy.

One good option is to buy an index fund based on the S&P 500, since it includes the top publicly traded stocks listed in the U.S. (Plus, it’s the recommendation of super investor Warren Buffett.) But other broad-based index funds can also be a good choice, reducing (but not eliminating) your investment risk. Many companies offer similar index funds, so compare the expense ratio on each to see which one offers the best deal.

Once you’ve found a fund to invest in, note its ticker symbol, a three- or four-letter code.

2. Figure out how much you can invest

Now determine how much you’re able to invest in the ETF. You may have a specific amount available to you now that you want to put into the market. But what you can invest may also depend on the price of the ETF.

An ETF may trade at a price of $10 or $15 or maybe even a few hundred dollars per share. Generally, you’ll need to buy at least one whole share when placing an order. However, if you use a broker that allows fractional shares, you can put any amount of money to work, regardless of the ETF price. In many cases these brokers do not charge a trading commission either.

Fortunes are built over years, so it’s important to continue to add money to the market over time. So you should also determine how much you can add to the market regularly over time.

3. Place the order with your broker

Now it’s time to place the order with your broker. If you have money in the account already, you can place the trade using the ETF’s ticker symbol. If not, deposit money into the account and then place the trade when the money clears.

If you don’t have a brokerage account, it usually takes just a few minutes to set one up. A handful of brokers such as Robinhood and Webull allow you to instantly fund your account. So in some cases you could be started and fully trading in minutes.

Protect yourself from inflation with ETFs

Inflation is the persistent increase in prices over time, and it gradually reduces your purchasing power. To protect yourself from inflation, you need investments that rise faster than it does. And one way to do that is to actually own the businesses – or stock in them – that benefit from inflation.

Often the beneficiary is a high-quality business that can push on those rising prices to consumers. By owning a stake in the business – through stock or a collection of stocks in an ETF – you can benefit when your companies raise their prices. So owning stock can be a way to protect yourself from inflation.

Investors have a good choice of ETFs when it comes to hedging against inflation. Two of the most popular ETFs include index funds based on the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the Nasdaq 100 index, which contain high-quality businesses listed on American exchanges:

  • Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO), with an expense ratio of 0.03 percent
  • Invesco QQQ Trust (QQQ), with an expense ratio of 0.20 percent

Both are low-cost funds that give you stakes in some of the world’s best companies, helping protect you from inflation.

What to know about crypto and ETFs in 2024

Currently, there are no ETFs that allow you to invest directly in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Several companies, including Fidelity, have applied with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to offer Bitcoin ETFs, but the agency has been slow to approve them. In a recent statement, the SEC questioned whether the Bitcoin futures market could support the entry of ETFs, which aren’t able to limit additional investor assets if a fund were to become too large or dominant.

However, there are ETFs that invest in companies using the technology behind Bitcoin, known as blockchain. These ETFs hold shares in companies such as Microsoft, PayPal, Mastercard and Square. All of these companies use blockchain technology in different parts of their businesses. One thing these ETFs don’t give you is direct exposure to Bitcoin itself, but as blockchain technology continues to grow, the companies in these ETFs could benefit.

It’s unclear when or if ETFs that invest in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies directly will be available for purchase. It’s important to remember that cryptocurrencies are highly speculative investments and don’t produce anything for their owners. ETFs that focus on blockchain may ultimately be a safer way to profit from its future innovation.

Exchange-traded fund (ETF) FAQ

Editorial Disclaimer: All investors are advised to conduct their own independent research into investment strategies before making an investment decision. In addition, investors are advised that past investment product performance is no guarantee of future price appreciation.