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7-ETF Portfolio With Low Correlating Assets Beats The S&P 500

09 June 2011 at 2:40 pm by Gary Gordon     Bookmark and Share    Follow EtfExpert on Twitter

Investors have¬†become so accustomed to the notion of “risk on” and “risk off,” many have cast aside one of the most hallowed principles of¬†success. Specifically,¬†reducing the possibility of loss (a.k.a. “risk”) requires¬†individual assets that do not all¬†move in¬†the same direction.

How does an ETF investor know whether his/her investments are zigging simultaneously, rather than zigging and zagging independently? There are a number of free web tools, though I might recommend the Select Sector SPDR tracker for first-timers.

Indeed, I often check the correlation coefficients between the¬†ETFs in my client accounts.¬†If there are too many high positive correlations¬†(0.75 to 0.99),¬†I recognize the likelihood that those ETFs¬†may not be¬†distinguishing themselves from one another. If there¬†are too many¬†high negative¬†correlations (-0.75 to -0.99), I’m unlikely to be achieving anything more than what can be accomplished with 2 ETFs —¬†SPDR S&P 500 Trust (SPY) and¬†iShares Barclays 20+ Treasury Bond (TLT).

Constructing a portfolio that has 7 or 9 or 11 or 15 ETFs, each moving without regard to any other investment, each offering its own potential for financial gain… it’d be akin to discovering the Holy Grail.¬†It’s not going to happen. On the other hand, you can combine a variety of low correlating assets that concomitantly reduce risk and outperform popular market benchmarks.

For instance, over the last 6 months, the S&P 500 SPDR Trust (SPY) has returned 6%. That doesn’t sound too shabby, although risking¬†the entirety of one’s capital¬†on¬†an all-stock portfolio¬†can be terribly¬†unnerving.

Over the same 6 months, a portfolio with equal amounts of these 7 ETFs significantly outperformed the S&P 500. What’s more, the¬†“collection” did so with a fraction of the risk. (Note: The risk is lower, both in terms of an aggregate “beta” and in terms of diversification vis-a-vis low correlating assets.)

7-ETF Portfolio: Less Risk and Higher Returns    
        6-Mo %   Beta
PowerShares Build America Bond (BAB) 9.4%   N/A
PowerShares Emerging Market Debt (PCY) 3.6%   N/A
iPath DJ Total Commodity (DJP)   8.0%   0.96
Utilities Select Sector SPDR (XLU) 9.9%   0.55
SPDR S&P Biotech (XBI)   17.9%   0.76
iShares MSCI Swtizerland (EWL)   15.1%   0.81
iShares MSCI Taiwan (EWT)   8.8%   1.04
Average       10.4%   0.82
S&P 500 SPDR Trust (SPY)   6.0%   1.00


Now consider the correlation matrix below. In a world where correlations greater than .80 are the norm for stocks and commodities, the highest correlation between growth-oriented ETFs in this portfolio is less than .60.

BAB 1.00            
DJP  -0.21 1.00          
EWL -0.10 0.50 1.00        
EWT -0.14 0.38 0.54 1.00      
PCY -0.06 0.20 0.31 0.36 1.00    
XBI -0.29 0.33 0.40 0.47 0.25 1.00  
XLU -0.11 0.22 0.51 0.51 0.37 0.47 1.00


I am not suggesting that you ought to jettison all of your holdings. For one thing, keeping up with correlations can be more difficult than keeping up with the Kardashians. Secondly,¬†beating the market with 7 ETFs is a foolhardy financial pursuit, even¬†when your foresight has a history of succeeding.¬†(Review 2010’s, “How My 7 ETFs Trounced The S&P 500“),¬†

With that said, I encourage investors to check correlation coefficients. Make sure that high positive or high negative correlations are in check, either by committing to stop-loss limit orders on each investment and/or by making a few adjustments to some of the positions in your account(s).

You can listen to the¬†ETF Expert Radio¬†Show¬†‚ÄúLIVE‚ÄĚ,¬†via podcast or on your iPod.¬†You can review more ETF Expert features here.

Disclosure Statement: ETF Expert¬†is a web log (‚ÄĚblog‚ÄĚ) that makes the world of ETFseasier to understand. Gary Gordon, MS, CFP is the president of Pacific Park Financial, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. Gary Gordon, Pacific Park Financial, Inc, and/or its clients may hold positions in the ETFs, mutual funds, and/or any investment asset mentioned above. The commentary does not constitute individualized investment advice. The opinions offered herein are not personalized recommendations to buy, sell or hold securities. At times, issuers of exchange-traded products compensate Pacific Park Financial, Inc. or its subsidiaries for advertising at the ETF Expert web site. ETF Expert content is created independently of any advertising relationships. You may review additional ETF Expert disclosure details here.

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