It's been a bad start to the year for a remarkably risky fund.
In the first quarter, the worst-performing big exchange-traded product has been UGAZ, a levered natural gas play from VelocityShares that has lost more than half its value.
Designed to treble the performance of natural gas, the UGAZ has given its holders even more than their money's worth of volatility. The underlying commodity itself is down a bit less than 15 percent this year; UGAZ has fallen 55 percent.
"A lot of people were ticking the boxes, saying 'Yes, this is a very bullish story, it's stacking up to be a very bullish story,'" Gina Sanchez of Chantico Global commented Thursday on Eyes On Events's "Trading Nation." "And then all this warm weather hit, and wow, did we see a kill to anybody holding any kind of leveraged bet."
The unseasonably warm winter has been bad news for natural gas demand, since the commodity is largely used for heating.
Meanwhile, the other-side-of-the-coin product, DGAZ, which is designed to provide triple-levered short exposure to nat gas, is up a bit less than 40 percent in 2017.
To be sure, neither UGAZ nor DGAZ are designed to be held for long time periods by everyday investors.
"The ETNs are intended to be daily trading tools for sophisticated investors to manage daily trading risks. They are designed to achieve their stated investment objectives on a daily basis, but ... may not be suitable for investors who plan to hold them for a period other than one day," the prospectus warns in bold font.
Indeed, both the UGAZ and DGAZ are down over the past year — the UGAZ by 16 percent, and the DGAZ by 79 percent.
And not everyone appears to be heeding the issuer's warning. UGAZ and DGAZ are both topics of near-daily conversation on the online investing community "Wall Street Bets," a forum on Reddit that relishes in so-called YOLO (or "you only live once") plays. Recent posts about the triple-long product are entitled "When to buy UGAZ," "Buy the UGAZ dip," "UGAZ suicide squad anyone," "RIP UGAZ HOLY S---" and "UGAZ Bagholding Idiots Thread."
Bill Baruch, senior market strategist at iiTrader, commented Thursday on "Trading Nation" that while he's "very bullish natural gas," for both technical and fundamental reasons, "I don't like these triple ETFs."
"If you really want to hold natural gas ... you want to use the underlying commodity," he added, saying that buying long-dated futures might be a good play. "There's many ways to trade this [that are] much better than using that."
"These are for very short-term moves for short-term traders in a very high conviction trade," Sanchez emphasized. "This is not a long-term bet."
A representative for Janus, which purchased VelocityShares in 2014, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.