Why do some ETFs succeed and why do others fail? The question certainly seems harmless enough. What’s more, this was the topic of my presentation at the Global Indexing & ETFs Conference in Phoenix yesterday afternoon.
As I prepared to speak, I found myself questioning the nature of success. Should I link success to risk-adjusted returns? Should I talk about the ETFs that raised the most assets in the shortest time span? Would it make sense to praise the vehicles that had the most “buzz” in the institutional money management arena?
I brought a yellow pad with pages of “talking points” up to the podium, but I didn’t use one-tenth of the material. Instead, I began to chat in a casual manner.
What makes anything or anyone successful? If you’re talking about a person, a product, a business, a team or even a country, the key ingredients are the same: One part innovation, one part motivation and one part “right place, right time.”
Think about the United States of America itself. Success is directly attributable to a radical new idea — individual rights rather than the divine rights of kings. Unfairly taxed settlers must have been exceptionally determined to risk life and limb, battling against the well-organized British army. The fact that soon-to-be Americans were over-matched didn’t seem to matter. Simply stated, it was the right time and place for highly motivated folks to launch an innovative and brand new system of government.
If we apply the same criteria to the world of ETFs, we recognize that an excellent idea must be accompanied by great timing and phenomenal fund provider commitment. It’s not enough to open up shop and declare your “Small Cap Emerging Markets Materials and Infrastructure ETF” a masterpiece; rather, the offering must be one that will endure.
Below, I compiled a number of new ETFs that deserve a “most successful” ¬†moniker. Each investment possibility came to market within the last 12-15 months. More importantly, you won’t find any of them on a “Death Watch” list in 2013.
1. SPDR Barclays Capital Short Term High Yield Bond (SJNK). Before March of 2012, if you wanted access to a diversified basket of short-term high yield corporates, you had to go with a single year in the Guggenheim BulletShares series. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. On the other hand, the folks at State Street designed SJNK with greater trade-ability and one-stop access to the asset class in mind.
Can $520 million inflow in 8 months be wrong? Certainly. Yet SJNK’s 338 holdings with an average maturity of just 3.5 years makes a 5.2% SEC yield reasonably compelling. (Note: At present, investors are paying a 50 basis point premium over the net asset value.)
2. WisdomTree Emerging Market Corporate Bond (EMCB). Some people may be thinking… do we really need another bond fund? Couldn’t you just use PowerShares Emerging Market Sovereign (PCY) or iShares Emerging Market Bond (EMB)?
There’s certainly a case to be made that country debt is the only bond exposure one needs out of Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.¬†On the flip side, the yields on developed world country debt — America, Britain, Germany, Japan — are rather unappealing. Unless your pursuit is the return of your capital alone, 1.2% from iShares 7-10 Year Treasury (IEF) may not cut it.
EMCB is the original dollar-denominated emerging market corporate bond fund. The fund of 30 holdings offers an average maturity of 7 years with a 4.1% distribution yield. Granted, a 0.6% expense ratio is a disappointment. Nevertheless, those who wish to expand their income asset horizons into corporate bonds tied to emerging economies now have the opportunity to do so.
3. Emerging Markets MSCI Minimum Volatility Fund (EEMV). Low volatility funds may lose some of their luster in a raging stock bull. But don’t expect investors to abandon “New Normal” thinking anytime soon. In fact, as long as there is a place for ETFs… as long as people want “trade-able” alternatives to buy-n-hold mutual funds… expect money managers to employ the revolutionary concept.
The iShares launch of EEMV actually occurred in late 2011. In one year’s time, EEMV has amassed $675 million in assets under management. And why not? Here is a fund with a reasonable cost of ownership (net expense 0.25%), less beta risk than Vanguard Emerging Markets (VWO), and a greater focus on non-cyclicals like consumer staples.