Category Archives: stocks

Why Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful Puts Most Of His Cash In ETFs

When people see Kevin O’Leary, Mr. Wonderful on the TV show “Shark Tank,” they see a man willing to invest thousands of dollars in risky startups based on only a 10-minute presentation.

But the truth is, O’Leary’s a man who’s invested the bulk of his fortune in ETFs. In addition to “Shark Tank,” he heads O’Shares, an ETF family created to meet his specific investing needs.

The seven ETFs track indexes created by FTSE Russell that follow O’Leary’s investing criteria. Each company in the indexes must have 1) attractive operating metrics as defined by return on assets; 2) 20% less volatility than the market; 3) pay dividends. The portfolio must have no more than 5% in any one company and no more than 20% in a sector.

“People see me on ‘Shark Tank’ and think I’m the Wild West,” said O’Leary. “But I’m not. I’m an extremely conservative investor. My concern is preservation, and I want to make 5% a year forever. It’s not easy to do.”

O’Leary made his millions as a founder of Softkey, a publisher and distributor of CD-ROM-based software. It later bought Learning Co. and took its name. In 1999, Mattel acquired the company for $4.2 billion.

He put most of that money into a trust for his children that would pay out 5% every year in perpetuity. He wanted the trust invested 100% all the time and rebalanced every January back to 50% equity and 50% fixed income. He used the five investing criteria he would later use for the ETFs and said there could be no leverage or derivatives.

The annual 5% payout couldn’t come from return of capital, only interest, dividends or capital appreciation. When bonds paid 6.5%, the target 5% payout was easy to make. But as the yield on U.S. Treasuries fell, making 5% became a challenge without inordinate risk.

“Over the years, I’ve used every asset class: private equity, hedge funds, even alternative asset classes like owning forests,” said O’Leary. “You name it, I’ve done it.”

He said he found it interesting and frustrating that no matter who he hired or how successful, after about seven years, the manager’s strategy would blow up or go flat. He then decided to build his own mutual funds, and noted that his managers were using ETFs to “plug holes in periods where they needed to do allocations.” He tried to use ETFs for his trust, but every index violated at least one of his criteria, usually an outsize weighting in one stock.

He then went to the folks at FTSE Russell and asked them to make an index based on his criteria that would cover the equity portion of the stock/bond portfolio. They said “no.” They don’t make indexes for individuals, but they would test his idea to see if it had market potential. Out of that came O’Shares FTSE U.S. Quality Dividend ETF (OUSA). While capital preservation and yield are the fund’s mandate, not benchmark outperformance, in 2016 it beat the S&P 500: 12.3% vs. 11.96%. The yield on OUSA is 2.3%, compared with the S&P’s 1.9%. The expense ratio is 0.48%.

“Kevin’s approach to looking at dividend growth and cash flow is something that we think adds benefit to our equity weightings,” said Rob Stein, chief executive at Astor Investment Management, a Chicago RIA with $2 billion under management. The firm builds portfolios exclusively out of ETFs. “We believe O’Shares’ approach makes sense for analyzing stock selection, so we don’t have to drill down in individual stock selection. It’s a concept that makes sense to us and it’s being done rigorously.”

For geographic diversification, O’Leary asked FTSE Russell to build O’Shares FTSE Europe Quality Dividend ETF (OEUR) and a currency-hedged version O’Shares FTSE Europe Quality Dividend Hedged ETF (OEUH), which removes the effect of currency fluctuations. Then came O’Shares FTSE Asia Pacific Quality Dividend ETF (OASI) and its hedged version O’Shares FTSE Asia Pacific Quality Dividend Hedged ETF (OAPH). In 2016, OASI beat the MSCI AC Asia Pacific Index 7.82% to 5.21% and yielded 2.8%.

O’Leary then asked Russell to build O’Shares FTSE U.S. Small Cap Quality Dividend ETF (OUSM).

While on “Shark Tank,” O’Leary has invested in 40 companies, but he said he wouldn’t put any of them in his trust. They are too high-risk.

“I love the ETF industry and the innovation that is going on in it,” said O’Leary. “And I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Originally published in Investor’s Business Daily.

She is Belle of ETF.com Awards

Women might not have broken the ultimate glass ceiling in American politics, but they took the top prizes at the ETF.com Awards.

Yes, it’s awards time again for the ETF industry and starting off the festivities was ETF.com, a Web site full of stories, tools and fund analysis.

The SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF, with the ticker (SHE), swept the ceremony by walking away with four of the top awards, more than any other ETF has taken home in the history of this specific award ceremony. The fund won Best New ETF, Most Innovative New ETF, Best New U.S. Equity ETF and Thematic ETF of the Year.

girl-v-bull

Fearless girl courtesy of SSGA

Were the judges trying to soften the blow women took on the political plane this year? Possibly. State Street Global Advisors, the sponsor of the fund, is responsible for installing the “Fearless Girl” statue near Wall Street on International Women’s Day last month. The statue represents the lack of gender diversity on Wall Street and the executive suites of U.S. corporations in general.

State Street said it created SHE, as the Gender Diversity Fund is affectionately known, to “invest in large-capitalization companies that rank among the highest in their sector in achieving gender diversity across senior leadership. SHE offers a means to invest in companies that have demonstrated greater gender diversity within their sector, providing investors with a tool to inspire change and make an impact.”

According to a 2015 paper from MSCI ESG Research, companies in the MSCI World Index with strong female leadership saw a return on equity of 10.1% per year compared with 7.4% for companies lacking suck leadership. We would be remiss if we failed to point out that on State Street’s board of directors only three of the 11 are women.

It appears the “Fearless Girl” is creating a lot of buzz too, as she stands facing the famous “Charging Bull” statue of Wall Street. The Bull’s creator thinks the girl statue violates his artistic rights and changes the meaning of his statue, which represents the strength of America and the market.

The Best ETF of 2016 was actually the VanEck Vectors Fallen Angel High Yield Bond ETF (ANGL). This award is given to a fund that did its job particularly well in a particular year. In 2016, this fund surged 25%, at least 10 percentage points more than its main competitors in a year when high-yield bonds were posting great returns.

I’ll just let ETF.com explain how the fund works: “Typically, investors hold bonds at different tranche levels, and as soon as a bond falls out of the investment-grade bucket, every insurance company must sell all of it, pushing these bonds into oversold territory, the result is that these downgraded bonds tend to outperform almost immediately after being downgraded – the very juice ANGL is extracting. What’s more these newly downgraded bonds don’t carry that much more default risk.”

For full list of ETF.com awards click here.

Can China ETFs Continue Their Ascent?

China ETFs’ recent gyrations are enough to give one whiplash. Many have behaved like the Shanghai Composite Index recently. After soaring 152% over the previous 12 months — 60% this year alone — to a seven-year high on June 12, the benchmark for mainland China’s stock market hit a significant speed bump.

Last week the index stumbled 13% into a much-anticipated correction. A 5% rally the first three days of this week gave way to selling Thursday, cutting the week’s gain so far to 1%.

“The sheer increase in prices this year is something that makes me want to stand back,” said John Rutledge, chief investment strategist for Safanad, an investment house in New York. “I don’t know any fundamental reason why prices should have doubled this year, and that price behavior sounds like a bubble.”

Rutledge is referring to the fact that the Chinese economy’s growth rate has slowed to a six-year low of 7%. But if fundamental analysis can’t explain it, macroeconomics can. With central banks all over the world cutting interest rates, there is flood of liquidity looking for returns.

The first thing to know is that there are two markets in China. The Hong Kong market, which has long been open to global investors, trades what are known as H-shares. Then there are the mainland markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen. They trade A-shares, which had been limited to domestic investors.

But last year the Shanghai and Hong Kong markets created a system that let global investors buy A-shares and domestic investors buy H-shares. This change has brought a lot of money to the mainland markets.

On top of that, the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, has cut interest rates three times since November, and more cuts are expected.

Finally, throw in a slowdown in the Chinese real estate market. It led the Chinese government to encourage investments in stocks by making it easier for Chinese retail investors to open accounts and buy stocks on margin.

Loss Of Liquidity

And a loss of liquidity sparked last week’s correction. First, Chinese regulators, worried that the market was getting overleveraged, tightened the rules on margin trading. Then a slew of initial public offerings sucked up a lot of cash.

There’s no doubt that China is risky. But gains could resume if the economy picks up and government stimulus programs continue. And index provider MSCI is evaluating A-shares for inclusion in its emerging markets index. That could spark demand by many funds that track MSCI indexes.

If you want China A-Shares in your portfolio, investing in ETFs is the way to go. KraneShares offers four ETFs focused on China. Its Bosera MSCI China A ETF (ARCA:KBA) holds more than 300 large-cap and midcap stocks on both the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.

KraneShares says that these are the stocks that would be included in an MSCI emerging markets index. KBA is up 40% year to date and 126% in the past 12 months. It has an expense ratio of 0.85%.

Deutsche X-trackers Harvest CSI 300 China A-Shares ETF (ARCA:ASHR) tracks the CSI 300 Index, which holds the largest and most liquid stocks in the A-share market. It’s up 35% year to date and 129% for the past year. It charges 0.8% of assets for expenses.
Market Vectors ChinaAMC A-Share ETF (ARCA:PEK) also tracks the CSI 300 index but charges less: 0.72%. It’s up 39% year to date and 132% in the 12 months. The big difference is that ASHR is more liquid and offers a 0.2% yield, while PEK offers none.

As liquidity improves in July, David Goldman, managing director of investment firm Reorient Group, sees a market recovery and a move back up beyond the 5,000 level for the Shanghai Composite.

“Economic fundamentals are clearly improving, and so are regulatory incentives for stock market growth,” he wrote this week.

Originally published in Investor’s Business Daily.

Investor cash pours into Hong Kong ETFs

All this talk about a bubble in the Chinese stock market isn’t scaring away investors from flooding the largest exchange-traded funds that track Chinese stocks with bucket loads of cash.

April saw HK$20.5 billion ($2.6 billion) flow into the Hang Seng H-Share Index Fund (SEHK STOCK CODE 2828). It was the largest monthly inflow since 2010 and the third-most among equity ETFs globally, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Hang Seng H-share ETF holds the stocks of 40 of China’s biggest state-owned companies. Financials make up 67% of the portfolio. The fund is valued at about 10 times forward earnings, compared with the 17 multiple on the Shanghai Composite Index, according to Bloomberg.

The ETF’s shares rose 17% last month to HK$145.20, its third consecutive month of gains. Over the past four months, the ETF has received a total of HK$29 billion, its longest stretch since 2013. Total assets grew to HK$57.1 billion.

The U.S.-listed iShares China Large-Cap ETF (FXI) received $385 million last month, the biggest inflow in eight months. It jumped 16% in April, for a 51% return over the past 12-months.

One big reason for the rally is that Chinese companies trading in Hong Kong are priced at a significant discount to their dual-listed counterparts on the mainland. UBS said even though the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index leapt 17% in April, its largest jump since October 2011, Chinese A shares still trade at a 31% premium to Hong Kong stocks.

Investors are betting on more monetary easing in the world’s largest economy.  Since the November Shanghai-Hong Kong exchange link opened mainland stocks to foreign investors, mainland stocks have seen a flood of inflows. In addition, the People’s Bank of China has cut interest rates and reduced banks’ reserve requirement ratios twice in the past six months, sending more liquidity into the markets. Another rate cut is expected soon.

Over the past year, the Hang Seng China Enterprises benchmark soared 48% vs. the 119% surge of the Shanghai Composite Index’s A shares.

Originally published in Asia Times.

Comparing ETFs? Don’t Just Look At Expense Ratios

The rule when buying ETFs is that when all things are equal, buy the one with the lowest expense ratio. But remember that similar sounding ETFs often aren’t equal. This means don’t let the expense ratio be the only factor in choosing an ETF.

“Our belief is expenses and past performance matter, but more important is understanding what’s inside the portfolio,” said Todd Rosenbluth, S&P Capital IQ director of ETF research.

SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) tracks the S&P 500 stock index and charges a tiny expense ratio of 0.09%, commonly called nine basis points. One hundred basis points make up 1 percentage point. Guggenheim S&P 500 Equal Weight ETF (RSP) also tracks the S&P 500. But it charges a fee of 0.4% of assets.

Look At The Performance

“You might ask ‘Who in their right mind would pay 40 basis points vs. 9?'” said Ron Delegge, founder of ETFguide. “But then you take a look at the 10-year return.”

RSP returned an average annual 9.42% in the past 10 years, compared with 7.85% for SPY, according to Morningstar. In fact, RSP beats SPY in all periods reported on Morningstar.com, from one month on.

The big difference between the funds is the way the indexes are weighted. SPY follows the S&P 500’s classic market-capitalization weighting, which multiplies the stock price by the number of shares outstanding to get a stock’s market value. The biggest companies get a larger weighting, comprising a greater percentage of the index than the smaller ones. Thus a $1 move in Apple (AAPL), with a 3.98% weighting, will lift or drag down the index much more than a $1 move in the shares of Diamond Offshore Drilling (DO), which has a weighting of just 0.01%.

But RSP gives every stock in the index an equal weighting of 0.2%. This means a $1 rise in Diamond Offshore’s stock moves the index just as much as a $1 increase in Apple’s shares. By giving greater weight to the smaller stocks in the index, this has a big effect on the fund’s performance. Year to date, RSP is up 2.25% vs. SPY’s 1.29%, 96 basis points more — after paying the expense ratio.

“Would I be willing to pay more for those returns?” asks Delegge. “Definitely.”

Of course, SPY could just as easily outperform RSP in periods when the market favors large-cap stocks or other factors that can be found in SPY but not RSP.

But S&P 500 trackers aren’t alone. “One example that is much maligned is PowerShares FTSE RAFI U.S. 1000 ETF (PRF), said Michael Krause, president of AltaVista Research in New York, which runs the ETF Research Center website. “I calculate that cumulative since its inception in 2006, PRF has outperformed iShares Russell 1000 ETF (IWB) by 14 percentage points.”

ETF Research Center pegs PRF’s average annual return since 2006 at 8.9% vs. 8.1% for IWB.

PRF’s expense ratio is 0.39%, while IWB charges 0.15% of assets.

Not Alone

This trend happens a lot among the industry ETFs. SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB) and iShares U.S. Home Construction ETF (ITB) sound like they track the same industry, meaning they should post similar results. XHB charges 0.35%, while ITB charges 0.45%, so XHB seems like a better choice.

Yet only 35% of the XHB holdings are actual homebuilding companies, and 28% building products. The rest of the stocks are home furnishing producers and retailers, home improvement retailers and household appliance makers. However, homebuilding companies make up 71% of the ITB portfolio, with building products at 13%.

ITB has risen by an annual average of 25.72% in the past three years vs. 21.01% for XHB. Year to date, ITB is up 8.32% vs. XHB’s 6.74%. That more than compensates for the extra 10 basis points.

“Cheaper hasn’t been better as of late,” said Rosenbluth.

Originally published in Investor’s Business Daily.

WisdomTree Wins ETF of Year at ETF.com Awards As ProShares Walks Away With 4 Statues

It’s award time again.

Much like Spring follows Winter, although reports of more snow this weekend are leading some to question that, the ETF industry starts its period of self-congratulations on the heels of the Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes.

ETF.com, the self-proclaimed world’s leading authority on exchange-traded funds, started the season off with their second annual awards banquet.

“Our awards try to recognize the products that make a difference to investors,” said Matt Hougan, president of ETF.com. “The ones finding new areas to put money to work.” The awards are determined by a panel of experts chosen by ETF.com.

Held at The Lighthouse restaurant at New York’s Chelsea Piers March 19, ETF.com wins the prize for best party location. With picture windows overlooking the Hudson River, guests of the cocktail hour took in the sunset over New Jersey before the ceremony started.

The WisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity (HEDJ) was the big winner, grabbing the prize for ETF of the Year, while the Market Vectors ChinaAMC China Bond (CBON) won Best New ETF. Not quite sure what the difference is between those two awards, but obviously both funds stand out from the crowd of 117 ETFs issued in 2014.

However, ProShares swept the evening, as the single provider that won the most awards. The twin funds ProShares CDS North American HY Credit (TYTE) and CDS Short North American HY Credit (WYDE) claimed the awards for both Most Innovative New ETF and Best New Fixed-Income ETF.

“We designed these ETFs for investors who want high yield credit exposure that is isolated from interest rate risk,” said Steve Cohen, ProShares managing director.

The fund was also nominated for Best Ticker of the Year with its homophones for “tight” and “wide”. However, the awards announcer had a chuckle by claiming they really were pronounced “tighty whitey”, a reference to his jockey shorts. Best Ticker was awarded to HACK, the PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF.

ProShares also won Best New Alternative ETF for the ProShares Morningstar Alternative Solution (ALTS) and Most Innovative ETF Issuer of the Year.

“We are always striving to deliver new and innovative products to allow investors to build better portfolios,” said ProShares Chief Executive Michael Sapir.

Lee Kranefuss, the man who created the iShares brand of ETFs and built them into the largest ETF issuer in the world won the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the only speech of the night — thank goodness — Kranefuss said, “ETFs allow people to take control.” He likened ETFs to iTunes, saying “no longer are you limited to what the record company puts out.” He said he’s often been asked if he thought the ETF industry would take off like it has in the 15 years since iShares launched.

“Not really,” said Kranefuss, “we just put out the best products we could put out.”

The other award winners:

Best New U.S. Equity ETF – iShares Core Dividend Growth (DGRO)
Best New International/Global Equity ETF – Deutsche X-trackers Harvest MSCI All China Equity (CN)
Best New Commodity ETF – AdvisorShares Gartman Gold/Euro (GEUR) and AdvisorShares Gartman Gold/Yen (GYEN).
Best New Asset Allocation ETF – Global X /JPMorgan Efficiente (EFFE)
ETF Issuer of the Year – First Trust
New ETF Issuer of the Year – Reality Shares
Index Provider of the Year – MSCI
Index of the Year – Bloomberg Dollar Index
Best Online Broker for ETF-Focused Investors – TD Ameritrade
Best ETF Offering for RIAs – Charles Schwab
Best ETF Issuer Website – BlackRock

Fed Ready? New Sit ETF Hedges Hikes In Interest Rates

Nobody should invest in bond exchange traded funds without understanding that when interest rates increase, the bond’s price declines. With significant improvements in the economy and unemployment rate, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise rates before 2015 ends. This will affect securities across the entire bond market.

So, what is a bond ETF investor to do? A new exchange traded fund from ETF Managers Group seeks to help investors hedge rising interest rates by using a concept called negative duration that actually creates price appreciation when interest rates advance.

Sit Rising Rate ETF (RISE) holds a portfolio of futures and options contracts weighted to achieve a targeted negative 10-year average effective portfolio duration. Because it holds futures, the ETF is structured as a commodity pool.

Sam Masucci, founder and chief executive of ETF Managers Group, said the ETF should be used as a hedge, or insurance, to protect a bond portfolio from interest-rate volatility. “A small allocation of 10% to 20% in RISE can significantly reduce the interest rate risk within a bond portfolio.”

Duration calculates a bond’s sensitivity to interest-rate volatility. It measures how much the price of a bond is expected to fall when interest rates rise 1% — and rise when rates fall 1%. The longer the duration, the greater the interest rate risk. Negative duration determines how much the price will go up when rates rise. RISE tries to get a 10-to-1 ratio. So if rates rise 1%, the price should go up about 10%.

Bryce Doty, the senior fixed-income portfolio manager at Sit Investment Associates, manages the ETF based on the Minneapolis firm’s strategy.

Where RISE Fits In

Doty said an investor with a bond portfolio with an average duration of four years might choose to sell 20% of the portfolio and invest that money in the negative 10-year duration ETF. This cuts the interest rate risk by almost 70%.

The ETF achieves this effect by holding only four positions. Focused on the risk to short-term rates, 85% of the ETF’s portfolio is in short positions tied to 2-year U.S. Treasury and 5-year U.S. Treasury futures contracts. It also buys a put option on the 10-year U.S. Treasury futures contract. This means if rates rise on the 10-year note, the ETF gets price appreciation. But if rates fall, the EFT is only out the price of the put.

Compared with bond index ETFs, which typically charge expense ratios of less than 10 basis points, RISE, which is an active ETF, charges an expense ratio of 50 basis points. With other expenses factored in, the true cost can rise as high at 1.5%, although the fund is targeting a cost around 85 basis points.

“When you rebalance every month and short new Treasury futures to get target duration, you might get a tax hit at the end of the year,” said Thomas Boccellari, an analyst at Morningstar. “The benefit of the active management is, you pay the manager to control the duration for you and to get it right. But you need to understand that you are giving up a lot of yield to get this product and you need to be sure that is what you want to do.”

Two negative duration ETFs tracked by ETF.com are WisdomTree Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Negative Duration Fund (AGND) and WisdomTree BofA Merrill Lynch High Yield Bond Negative Duration Fund (HYND) has $32 million in assets, average daily volume of about 11,000 shares, an expense ratio of 0.28% and is up 0.44% year to date. HYND has $6.5 million in assets, average daily volume of about 9,000 shares, a 0.36% expense ratio and is up 2% this year.

Originally published in Investor’s Business Daily.