For ETF investment portfolios, the risks extend to more than just a sector-specific bet on utilities. Since most investors take on broad ETF plays to gain diversified exposure to the markets, it is important to look under the hood and note specific sector exposures.
For example, the low- or minimum-volatility strategy has been a popular smart-beta ETF play this year as investors take a more tempered view on the markets in light of the recent wide oscillations in the equities market – the iShares MSCI USA Minimum Volatility ETF (NYSEArca: USMV), which selects stocks based on variances and correlations along with other risk factors, has attracted almost $5.5 billion in net inflows and the competing PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: SPLV), which tracks the 100 least volatile stocks on the S&P 500, brought in $1.1 billion, according to ETF.com.
ETF investors should keep in mind that due to their indexing methodologies, the low-volatility ETFs can include heavy tilts toward traditionally conservative utilities sector. Utilities make up 8.6% of USMV’s underlying portfolio and 21.2% of SPLV. In contrast, the S&P 500 allocates a little over 3% toward utilities.
Moreover, given the utilities’ dividend association, the sector is also found in many dividend-focused ETF strategies. For instance, the iShares Select Dividend ETF (NYSEArca: DVY) is the second largest dividend-related ETF on the market, with $15.2 billion in assets under management, and the ETF includes a hefty 31.7% tilt toward utilities.
Even if one divests from utilities sector-specific plays, an investor should keep in mind that broad ETFs may still hold some exposure to utilities.