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Time to consider low-volatility ETF options, says Dutram


Stocks could see extreme levels of volatility, especially in the short term, says Eric Dutram of Zacks Investment Research, so it may be time for risk adverse investors to take a closer look at low volatility ETF options instead.

These securities focus on equities that have lower standard deviation levels than many of their counterparts, making them interesting picks for skittish investors who want to maintain lower risk equity exposure.
Luckily for these investors, there are a number of choices in the space, targeting various levels of the US market and the international space allowing anyone to focus in on low volatility stocks in all of the most important areas of the economy.

US Focused Low Volatility ETFs

Currently, investors have three choices to target low volatility stocks in the US market. There are two large cap choices and one small cap ETF that is also an option:

PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio (SPLV) – This fund tracks the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index which consists of the 100 stocks in the S&P 500 with the lowest realised volatility over the past twelve months. The ETF is rebalanced and reconstituted quarterly, and pays out 3.2% to investors in 30 Day SEC Yield terms.
This low volatility fund has a relatively concentrated holdings list from a sector perspective as three segments account for 72% of the total; consumer staples, utilities, and health care. This also produces a fund that has a significant concentration in pure value stocks (27%) while blend and value firms also make up a sizable percentage as well. In terms of expenses, the fund charges investors 25 basis points a year but it sees impressive volume of nearly 890,000 shares a day.

Russell 2000 Low Volatility ETF (SLVY) – This fund tracks the Russell-Axioma U.S. Small Cap Low Volatility Index which looks to give investors access to more stable companies in the small cap space. The ETF holds 176 holdings in total and pays out a decent yield of around 2% in 30 Day SEC Yield terms (see Three Financial ETFs Outperforming XLF).

Top holdings in this ETF go to the utilities and real estate sectors while the fund is extremely light in basic materials and consumer discretionary firms. Value stocks comprise the biggest chunk from a style perspective, at 47% of assets, while small cap securities account for two-thirds of the total portfolio. Unfortunately, volume is pretty weak in the fund—although observed bid ask spreads are tight—while the expense ratio is 30 basis points a year.

Russell 1000 Low Volatility ETF (LVOL) – This low volatility ETF looks to track the Russell-Axioma U.S. Large Cap Low Volatility Index which seeks to measure firms that have lower levels of variability in their prices. This is based on historic behaviour and gives the product about 108 holdings in total and a solid dividend yield just above 2% in 30 Day SEC terms.

The portfolio in this fund has a heavy focus on consumer staples firms which make up roughly 23% of the portfolio while health care and utilities round out the top three. Large caps constitute roughly 77% of the fund while blend securities take the top spot from a style perspective at 35% of assets. The average daily volume in the fund is decent at 17,900 shares a day while the expense ratio is pretty low at just 20 basis points a year (also read Are Telecom ETFs In Trouble?).

International Low Volatility ETFs

If foreign investing is more your style, there are also three low volatility ETFs that target this space too. Currently, investors have the option of looking at ex-U.S. developed, emerging markets, and a broad international play as well.

Russell Developed ex-U.S. Low Volatility ETF (XLVO) – This low volatility option tracks the Russell-Axioma Developed ex-U.S. Large Cap Low Volatility Index in order to follow foreign stocks that are more stable than their peers. In total, the fund holds 313 holdings in its basket and pays an impressive dividend around 3.0% to investors.

This ETF has a focus on consumer staples firms (25%), while health care (18%), and financials (13%) also receive high allocations. Exposure is pretty well split among the different style types, while it definitely has a tilt towards large caps (86%) from a market cap perspective.

For country exposure, the fund puts nearly one-fourth of the assets in British firms, while Canada, Japan, and Switzerland also receive double digit allocations. Volume is light—just 1,400 shares a day—but expenses are in-line with other funds, coming in at 25 basis points a year.

PowerShares S&P Emerging Markets Low Volatility Portfolio (EELV) – For a play on developing nations, investors can look to EELV which tracks the S&P BMI Emerging Markets Low Volatility Index. This benchmark focuses in on the 200 least volatile stocks of the S&P Emerging BMI Plus Large Mid Cap Index over the past 12 months and pays a solid dividend of 2.9% in 30 Day SEC yield terms (see Three Overlooked Emerging Market ETFs).

Financials take the top spot in the emerging market ETF at just over 23% of total assets, while consumer staples, and utilities round out the top three. Blend securities also dominate (49%) the fund from a style perspective while large caps account for two-thirds of the assets from a capitalization perspective.

Interestingly, Malaysia and South Africa take the top two country spots in the fund and are then trailed by Taiwan and Brazil to complete the top four nation allocations. While the country breakdown is impressive, the low volatility ETF is the most expensive on the list coming in at 45 basis points a year while the trading volume is light at just 4,000 shares a day.

PowerShares S&P International Developed Low Volatility Portfolio (IDLV) – If emerging markets aren’t your cup of tea, PowerShares also offers IDLV which tracks a similar index of developed market firms. This benchmark holds 200 securities in total and also looks at observed volatility levels over the past twelve month time period, paying about 3.1% in dividends to investors.

This fund also focuses on consumer staples stocks, while also giving high weights to industrials and financials as well. Additionally, four more sectors receive at least 10% of the weight suggesting a diversified portfolio.

Beyond sectors, the fund definitively has a tilt towards the Asia-Pacific region, although Canadian firms do take the top individual spot. In terms of costs, the fund is in-line with others on this list at 25 basis points while the average daily volume comes in light at just 3,000 shares.

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