In the first couple of months of 2016, the stock market reminded investors of its unpredictable nature, especially as it digested the bad economic news coming from China, Europe and the oil markets. When the possibility of higher interest rates is factored in, investors are coming to expect a rough ride in the stock market. This is why now may be the time to become defensive with your portfolio strategy.
By adding a defensive investing element to your strategy, you provide your portfolio with a cushion that can soften volatility and reduce the downside risk. In doing so, it may also dampen the upside potential during market rallies, but defensive stocks can still capture a good portion of the gains. For most investors, the best way to deploy a defensive investment strategy is through exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that offer diversification at a very low cost. In the March 2016 investing environment, the following four defensive ETFs may be worth your while.
Vanguard Health Care ETF
The health care industry is an ideal all-weather sector that does well regardless of the state of the economy, and the Vanguard Health Care ETF (NYSEARCA: VHT) offers a great way to gain exposure to the sector. The fund is designed to track the performance of the MSCI US. Investable Market Index (IMI) Health Care 25/50. The index comprises large-, mid- and small-cap companies from a broad cross-section of the industry. Among its top holdings are industry giants such as Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE), Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) and Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN). As of March 1, 2016, the fund has $6 billion in assets under management (AUM). It has returned an impressive 11.10% since its inception in 2004. Over the last 10 years, the fund has returned 20.36%, and over the last five years, 24.24%. Its expense ratio of 0.07% is among the lowest for its category.
Power Shares Preferred Stock ETF
With its 6% dividend yield, the PowerShares Preferred Stock ETF (NYSEARCA: PGX) has proven to be a very good alternative for yield seekers. Because its portfolio is primarily invested in preferred stocks, it does not assume the same level of risk as the common stocks in a volatile market. The fund is constructed to track the BofA Merrill Lynch Core Fixed Rate Preferred Securities Index. As of March 1, 2016, the fund has $3.72 billion in AUM, mostly invested in US. preferred stocks. But it also holds smaller portions of foreign-issued preferred securities in the form of American Depositary Receipts (ADRs). The fund has returned 7.55% over the last three years and has a one-year return of 6.45%, both far outpacing the index. Its expense ratio is 0.50%.
Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR
In early 2016, the Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR Fund (NYSEARCA: XLP) has experienced a surge in assets bringing its total as of March 1, 2016, to $9.34 billion. Consumer staples have inelastic demand and other defensive properties that enable them to perform well in down cycles. The fund tracks the Consumer Staples Select Sector Index, which is made up of 40 large-cap companies from the food, beverage and household products segments of the sector. Its top five holdings comprise 40% of the portfolio and include Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG), Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO), Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE: PM) and CVS Health Corp. (NYSE: CVS). The fund’s dividend yield is 2.40%. As of Jan. 31, 2016, the fund had a 10-year return of 10.94%, a five-year return of 15.04% and a three-year return of 14.14%. Its expense ratio of 0.014% is very low for the category.
PowerShares S&P 500 High Dividend Low Volatility Fund
In 2015, the PowerShares S&P 500 High Dividend Low Volatility Fund (NYSEARCA: SPHD) added “Low Volatility” to its name to emphasize its proven ability to outperform the broader market during periods of volatility. The fund is designed to track the price and yield of the S&P 500 Low Volatility High Dividend Index, which is composed of 50 stocks that have historically had high dividend yields and low volatility. As of March 2, 2016, the fund has more than $811 million in assets invested across multiple sectors including utilities, industrials and real estate, with its largest allocation to consumer staples and utilities. Its SEC 30-day yield is 4.04%. The fund, which was launched in October 2012, has returned 14.06% over the last three years. Its one-year return is 9.21%, and year to date in 2016, it has returned 5.26%. It has a 0.30% expense ratio.