With the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) having dropped almost 650 points since Nov. 1, investors came into the week hoping for a turnaround. And, at least for one day, they got exactly that: The Dow soared right from the open on hopes that lawmakers will agree upon an eventual solution to the looming fiscal cliff. As of 3:10 p.m. EST, the Dow is up 171.5 points, or 1.36%.
To dig more deeply into the stock market's success, I like to look at exchange-traded funds to see where investors are focusing their attention. ETFs that focus on volatility aren't sharing in today's market gains. The Barclays iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term ETN (NYSEMKT:VXX) is down more than 7.5%, while the double-levered VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (OTC:TVIX) is plunging 14%. Although volatility tends to go up during market downturns, these ETFs have been surprisingly subdued during November's plunge, and at current levels, they're not trading far below their lowest levels of the month.
Meanwhile, looking at broader sectors of the market, ETFs tracking the materials sector are doing particularly well. Major materials company Monsanto (NYSE:MON) is up about 3.6%, while Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) is rising more than 4%, as strength in the agricultural and housing markets helps pave the way to bigger gains.
Utilities, meanwhile, are the big laggard in the market, with ETFs tracking the sector among the sole losers. In general, utility stocks are seen as more conservative and tend to underperform in rallies, but many utility companies are also facing major challenges in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as they try to rebuild following massive outages and losses of infrastructure.