More than three years removed from the darkest days of the global financial crisis, major bank stocks still face an array of problems. Case and point: On June 21, Moody's Investors Service cut the credit ratings of 15 major banks, both foreign and domestic. Among those downgraded were the usual suspects such as Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) and Citigroup (NYSE: C).
There are more reasons to avoid major bank stocks. This high-beta group is intimately linked to the European sovereign debt crisis. It is widely believed that many U.S. banks have manageable amounts of European sovereign bonds on their books, but the sector is a baby being thrown-out with the bathwater. Not to mention, most big banks don't pay big dividends, meaning income investors need to look elsewhere.
There is an ETF that makes that search easy: The WisdomTree Dividend ex-Financials Fund (NYSE: DTN). DTN does exactly what its name implies and that is eschewing the financial services sector. Skimping on financials has proven rewarding for investors in DTN. As one example, the fund has fallen less than 4 percent in the past 90 days compared to an almost 5 percent decline for the rival Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (NYSE: VIG). VIG allocates 6 percent of its weight to financial services names.
By passing on bank stocks and their piddly yields, DTN is also able to offer a decent yield of 3.4 percent. That's not earth shattering, but it is better than the roughly 2 percent offered by the SPDR S&P 500 (NYSE: SPY). Remember, financial services are the S&P 500's second-largest sector concentration.
DTN is diverse at the sector level. Seven sectors - utilities, consumer staples, materials, industrials, telecommunications, health care and technology - receive double-digit weights ranging from 13.7 percent at the high end to 10.2 percent at the low end.
Another key to remember about DTN is that it is a broader market fund and with an expense ratio of 0.38 percent, it's not really expensive, but is far pricier than SPY. To that end, investors need to investigate whether DTN delivers returns worth paying up for over SPY. Year-to-date, SPY has trumped DTN, but over the past year, DTN wins. Over past 30 and 90 days, DTN is also the winner by significant margins.
However, past performance is no guarantee of future results. To that end, DTN's posture as an ex-financials fund has the potential to continue serving the fund well going forward or lead to lethargic returns should bank stocks rebound in earnest. The question is when is that going to happen?