How Small-Cap ETFs Can Deal With the Fed

As has been widely documented, major small-cap exchange traded funds, including the iShares Core S&P Small-Cap ETF (NYSEArca: IJR) and the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (NYSEArca: IWM), have struggled to start 2017. The Federal Reserve’s first interest increase of 2017, unveiled last week, has some investors concerned about the near-term outlook for smaller stocks.

Small-caps, though, can still navigate through a slowly rising rate environment. Smaller companies, which focus on U.S. markets, are less exposed to a stronger U.S. dollar as rates rise, which would more negatively affect larger corporations with a global footprint. Additionally, periods of rising rates also coincide with expanding economies, which often benefit smaller companies.

Small-caps are also focused on the domestic economy and have less direct exposure to global geopolitical uncertainty and currency risks, as opposed to large-cap companies that have an international footprint, which may be affected by overseas risks and a strengthening U.S. dollar.

Index returns in each of the last four cycles have been negative after one month, but in the three most recent cycles, index returns were up by double-digits after one year. The 2015 cycle had the largest trough-to-peak swing, down -12.3% after one month, but up 22% after twelve months – a remarkable 34.3 percentage point turnaround,” according to FTSE Russell data regarding the performance of the Russell 2000 during previous Fed tightening cycles.