Despite a less-than-inspiring end to December, the S&P 500 ended 2014 with another double-digit gain, but that does not mean investors should be looking to take excessive risk early in 2015.

Many investors did not take excessive risk in 2014, either, as highlighted by the ongoing popularity of low volatility exchange traded funds such as the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: SPLV).

SPLV, one of the elder statesmen of low volatility ETFs, added over $805 million in new assets in 2014. That total was exceeded by just one PowerShares ETF, the PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1000 Portfolio (NYSEArca: PRF), according to issuer data. The new year could bring heightened awareness and more assets to SPLV, particularly if equity market volatility rises.

“We believe in 2015, when returns might be choppier, investors should consider low or minimum volatility products such as SPLV. It has outperformed the S&P 500 Index thus far in 2014 (rising 18% versus 15% despite incurring a 0.25% expense ratio), but has a beta of 0.67. This is not surprising, given that SPLV selects the 100 stocks within the broader S&P index with the lowest realized volatilities over the prior 12 months and rebalances every three months. In our view, the recent 50% turnover rate limits the likelihood that investors will be surprised by the riskiness of the ETF’s holdings,” said S&P Capital IQ in a research note published earlier this week.

The $5.3 billion SPLV is S&P Capita IQ’s focus ETF for January. SPLV is rated overweight by the research firm.

As has been previously noted, SPLV is often thought of as a utilities-heavy ETF. Although the fund’s 18.4% weight to the best performing sector in the S&P 500 in 2014 helped, the ETF’s largest sector weight is an almost 33% weight to the financial services sector. That gives SPLV leveraged to financials’ value and dividend growth stories. [Banking Bigger Bank Dividends]

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