As we head toward the ninth year of our current bull market run, we will have to be pickier and evade potentially overbought areas of the equities market. For example, through a targeted exchange traded fund strategy, investors can focus on quality companies with wide economic moats that help provide a long-term competitive advantage.
Specifically, the VanEck Vectors Morningstar Wide Moat ETF (NYSEArca: MOAT) tries to reflect the performance of the Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index, which is comprised of attractively priced companies with sustainable competitive advantages.
According to Morningstar’s indexing methodology, there are five sources of economic moats: Intangible assets that include brand recognition to charge premium prices. Switching costs that make it too expensive to stop using a company’s products. Network effect that occurs when the value of a company’s service increases as more use the service. A cost advantage helps companies undercut competitors on pricing while earning similar margins. Lastly, efficient scale associated with a competitive advantage in a niche market.
By focusing on companies with wide economic moats, MOAT incorporates firms that stay profitable for a long time through competitive advantages that protect profits.
The Morningstar Moat Focus Indices target companies with a wide economic moat or sustainable competitive advantages and targets the most undervalued moat stocks, which have helped generate significant excess returns relative to the overall market. The strategy has been outperforming the broader equities market, with MOAT up 34.2% over the past year, compared to the S&P 500’s 23.0% return.
“Strong stock selection benefited the U.S. Moat Index in 2016 and led to its strongest calendar year of outperformance compared to the S&P 500 Index since 2009,” according to a VanEck note. “The performance gap first began to widen in February and then increased throughout the remainder of the year.”
Contributing to the outperformance in the MOAT strategy, increased merger and acquisition activity played a significant role among several constituents. For instance, Microsoft (NasdaqGS: MSFT) acquisition of LinkedIn (NasdaqGS: LNKD) helped made LinkedIn the strongest performing component of the Moat Index.
Outstanding performances in the information technology, consumer discretionary, industrials and financials sectors helped MOAT outperform the broader market. MOAT includes a hefty 30.5% tilt toward healthcare, along with 21.3% consumer discretionary, 13.1% industrials, 11.8% financials, 9.6% information technology, 5.0% materials, 4.9% real estate and 3.8% consumer staples.
MOAT frequently makes shifts from four to nine additions and deletions to its portfolio at each quarterly rebalance, which may help the fund shift away from pricier options, such as those that have recently capitalized on M&A activity. The ETF tracks an index that uses Morningstar proprietary methodology to identify companies with long-term advantages, which allows companies to earn sustainable excess economic profits, as measured by the return on invested capital relative to the company’s cost of capital. This helps provide a portfolio of high quality companies trading at a discount to intrinsic value.
Current top holdings include Twenty-First Century Fox (NasdaqGS: FOXA) 2.7%, Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) 2.6%, Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) 2.6%, American Express (NYSE: AXP) 2.6% and Compass Minerals International (NYSE: CMP) 2.6%.
The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.