U.S. and international equity markets have started 2014 in turbulent fashion.
Against the backdrop of stretched valuations in the U.S., other developed markets not yet duplicating last year’s bullishness and a staggering emerging markets sell-off, low volatility exchange traded funds could once again be in style. That applies to ex-U.S. developed markets as well.
U.S.-focused low volatility ETFs fell out of favor last year as soaring animal spirits encouraged investors to embrace riskier fare and rising interest rates highlighted the rate sensitivity aspect of the reduced volatility investment thesis. [Low Vol ETFs Take Their Lumps]
In the current environment, however, global low vol ETFs, such as the iShares MSCI EAFE Minimum Volatility ETF (NYSEArca: EFAV) and the PowerShares S&P International Developed Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: IDLV), offer advantages.
EFAV “may offer a better way to reduce the risk of investing in foreign stocks. It attempts to form the least volatile portfolio from the MSCI EAFE Index, which includes stocks from developed markets in Europe, Australia, and Asia. These stocks are more likely to enjoy durable competitive advantages than the average company in the MSCI EAFE Index and tend to be more profitable,” according to Morningstar analyst Alex Bryan.
EFAV’s 2% year-to-date loss is nothing to brag about, but it is better than the 3% lost by the iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (NYSEArca: EFA).
IDLV is also down just over 2% this year. The PowerShares offering allocates nearly 43% of its combined weight to Canada and the U.K. while almost two-thirds of EFAV’s weight goes to the U.K., Japan and Switzerland. The country weights of both ETFs are not surprising, nor is EFAV’s sector lineup. [Some Low Vol ETFs Thrived in 2013]
Consumer staples, health care, telecom and utilities, often the hallmarks of low volatility ETFs, combine for over 51% of EFAV’s weight.