Have you ever thought to yourself “I would love if they could put the downside protection of structured products into an ETF”? Probably not, but someone did, as there is a new category of ETFs, called Buffer ETFs, which are seeing big capital inflows. The ETFs work by guaranteeing only a certain level of losses in exchange for limiting potential gains. The ETFs have a year-long term, and their details change constantly. But a good example would be one with a 9% “buffer”. This means that if the ETF loses 12% in the year, the holder would only see a 3% loss and the product provider would absorb the rest. The first and only provider of these ETFs is called Innovator and has partnered with MSCI, Nasdaq and more to create a handful of exchange traded funds. Check out KOCT, NOCT, EJUL, and IJUL.
FINSUM: These are very tricky ETFs, just like the structured products from which they drew their inspiration. That said, they seem like they have some utility if they are executed properly.
The market has been very up and down lately. 50 bp losses or gains in a day feel pretty standard by now. But all of that may be wreaking havoc on investors’ nerves and portfolios. So what is the best way to hedge against the volatility? Most low volatility funds invest in stocks with a low beta, or those that change little compared to market movements. However, there may be an even better way to go about hedging. AGF has an ETF call BTAL, which not only buys low beta names, but also shorts high beta ones, all in equal weight with equal sector balance. In bouts of volatility, those shorts tend to really help gains in a way that holding long-only positions does not.
FINSUM: This seems like a smart approach that gives a sophisticated level of protection to investors. Worth a look.
How to defend against this tough equity market? Some say to buy defensive sectors like healthcare and consumer staples. Others buy gold. Ironically, however, the best protection may be to stick with the old 60/40 balanced portfolio. Despite all the market turmoil recently, if you had been holding a 60% SPY and 40% AGG portfolio over the last month you would have had a net return of negative 0.62%, which is pretty good considering how ugly markets were. If you had been holding it for the whole year, you would have a sterling return of 14.45%.
FINSUM: These stats are a testament to old fashioned diversification!
There are a handful of safe haven stock sectors that investors tend to rely on during market downturns. Healthcare, utilities, and REITs come to mind. Lately, some have been saying bank shares may also prove a good defense. However, investors should be very wary of two of those just mentioned: healthcare and banks. While on the surface healthcare stocks look very good for a recession—it is not as if people stop getting sick—the reality is that there has never been more regulatory pressure on the sector (from both sides of the aisle), which means it is far from safe. Additionally, the idea that banks have become safe, utility-like dividend machines is flawed, as bank earnings are very exposed to the economic cycle, and thus will likely see big moves in both price and yield.
FINSUM: We agree with this assessment entirely. Healthcare is more vulnerable than it has been in memory and banks are a long way from being dependable utilities (excellent PR job by Wall Street though!).
Low volatility stocks have been the hero of the volatility over the last year. In the past 12 months, the S&P 500 has returned 3.2%. That compares to a whopping 14% plus for low volatility stocks, such as in the S&P 500 low-vol index. By definition, low volatility stocks are boring (think utilities, insurance, and REITs) and have stable earnings. That works well for defending against market swings, but the protection means that valuations are WAY above their long-term average (three standard deviations above). That said, falling rates are very helpful to this class of stocks, so there is wind at their backs.
FINSUM: Despite quite high valuations, we think low vol stocks will continue to do well so long as the trade war continues to plague markets.