With last week’s surge, the S&P 500 is now higher by 30.1% this year. Not surprisingly, low volatility exchange traded funds have not been able to keep pace.

The average 2013 gain for the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: SPLV) and the iShares MSCI USA Minimum Volatility ETF (NYSEArca: USMV) is 22.7%. Although it is not surprising that SPLPV and USMV have lagged this year, the funds and the concept of low volatility investing have endured some criticism. [Low Vol ETFs Take Some Heat]

And while the criticism of U.S.-focused low volatility ETFs is well-documented, it would be inaccurate to criticize all “low vol” ETFs because the global products have been winners, particularly emerging markets fare.

“It comes off even more favorably on a risk-adjusted basis. In fact, the difference between EM low vol and plain old EM during 2013 was just plain huge. Only Asia ex-Japan comes close,” reports Brendan Conway for Barron’s.

The proof is in the pudding. The PowerShares S&P Emerging Markets Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: EELV) and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Minimum Volatility ETF (NYSEArca: EEMV) are down an average of 4% in 2013 while the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEArca: EEM) has dipped almost 7%. Over the past year, EELV has taken in over $143 million of its $222.4 million in assets under management. [Value Factors and Emerging Markets ETFs]

In terms of ex-U.S. global markets, the iShares MSCI EAFE Minimum Volatility ETF (NYSEArca: EFAV) and the PowerShares S&P International Developed Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: IDLV) have done a better job of keeping pace with the iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (NYSEArca: EFA) than SPLV and USMV have done with the S&P 500.

However, EFAV and IDLV are each up 13% while EFA is higher by 17.7% on the year.

iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Minimum Volatility ETF

Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of EEM and EFA.

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