There’s some good money to make in unlikely places

- Matt Krantz @mattkrantz USA TODAY

It has been easier to make money on stocks this year than it might appear. There has been a gusher of gains for investors in unexpected places.

Energy stocks, including natural gas processor Oneok, gas and oil producer Southweste­rn Energy and energy explorer Range Resources, have been a driving force to push markets higher this year and in the justcomple­ted second quarter, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Global Market Intelligen­ce.

These energy stocks are among the best in the Standard & Poor’s 500 for the year, gaining 92.4%, 76.9% and 75.3% respective­ly, as well as in the quarter.

Seeing such a strong bounce-back in energy stocks is just one of the indication­s the stock market isn’t as lame as many investors might think. The S&P

500 didn’t do much, rising just 2.7% this year so far and 1.9% during the quarter.

But this “steady-as-she-goes stock market” reflects a similarly slow-growth economy where there is still opportunit­y, says Bryan Sadoff, investment adviser at Sadoff Investment Management.

The themes driving the market so far this year include:

Energy has been the story of the stock market. The Energy Select Sector SPDR exchange-traded fund, which tracks energy stocks in the S&P, is up 13.1% this year, second only to utilities, which rose 21.2%. During the quarter, energy stocks pulled ahead by 10.3%, topping all 10 of the S&P 500 sectors. Six of the 10 best-performing stocks this year are energy stocks, and seven of the top stocks for second quarter were, too. A 31% rise in the price of WTI crude to about $50 a barrel has been a boon for brave investors.

Playing it safe has been the way to make money. Nervous investors decided slow-and-steady stocks were the places to be. Following energy, the best sectors in the quarter were health care, utilities and consumer staples companies that make necessitie­s, rising 5.8%, 5.7% and 3.9% respective­ly.

Technology is out. If energy stocks were in, tech stocks were out. The Technology Select Sector SPDR fund was down 2.2% during the quarter as consumers see slowing growth in both personal computers and smartphone­s as an issue. Seagate Technology, a maker of computer storage, fell 29% during the quarter. And Skyworks Solutions, which makes chips for mobile devices, fell 19%.

Hopes aren’t high for consumer spending. So-called consumer discretion­ary stocks fell 1.3% in the quarter. Some of the hardest-hit stocks were Signet Jewelers and Nordstrom, falling by a third in the quarter.

During the quarter, energy stocks pulled ahead by 10.3%, topping all 10 of the S&P 500 sectors.

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