Low Vol ETFs Look to Come Back Into Style

Low volatility exchange traded funds have had their heyday, soaring to prominence in the wake of the global financial crisis. But as U.S. stocks soared last year, popular “low vol” ETF performed as expected, meaning they lagged broader market indices.

“Low or ‘minimum’ volatility funds have become more popular since the 2008 meltdown. They buy mostly defensive stocks with high dividends and modest price variations, and represent an $11 billion market for moderately risk-averse investors,” Reuters reported.

The dominant names among low vol ETFs are the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: SPLV) and the iShares MSCI USA Minimum Volatility ETF (NYSEArca: USMV). SPLV and USMV combine for over $6.1 billion in assets under management. Although both ETFs are true to their low volatility missions, there are key differences between the two funds. [Key Differences Between Low Vol ETFs]

Differences and nuances between the two ETFs are integral in the decision-making process for investors and explain why SPLV and USMV do not move in perfect lockstep with each other. Both ETFs lagged the S&P 500 last year in what was an overt bull market for U.S. stocks, but USMV outperformed SPLV due in large part to the former’s health care exposure.

USMV allocates 19.2% of its weight health care stocks whereas SPLV is even more conservative with a 25.1% weight to utilities and a 20.3% weigh to consumer staples names, according to PowerShares data.

While low vol ETFs have proven popular and effective in the right market environments, there are important factors to consider in addition to the obvious differences between USMV and SPLV.