A slew of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with methodologies beyond market capitalization weighting continue coming to market, with many new smart beta funds using multi-factor strategies. Some new smart beta ETFs can even be deemed complex. While age is not an indicator of an ETF's worth or potential to deliver returns, with smart beta funds powering broader ETF industry growth, investors might want to revisit some of the ETFs that kick-started the smart beta phenomenon.
As CFRA Research points out in a recent note, 2003 through 2008 saw the entry to the market of what are now some successful smart beta ETFs. "CFRA Research thinks some smart beta products that launched between 2003 and 2008 also have many favorable traits. In ranking approximately 1,000 equity ETFs, CFRA combines holdings-level analysis with ETF attributes," said CFRA Head of ETF and Mutual Fund Research Todd Rosenbluth in a note out Tuesday. "To us, whether the stocks inside the fund are appealing on a valuation and/or risk perspective and the cost implications of buying and selling the product matter more than its historical track record. Unlike actively managed mutual funds, index-based products are seeking to replicate, not outperform a benchmark, making a three-year relative performance less meaningful." (See also: The Benefits of ETF Investing.)
The PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1000 Portfolio is one of the forefathers of the smart beta movement in the U.S. Now home to nearly $5 billion in assets under management, PRF will celebrate it 12th birthday in December. PRF's underlying index "is designed to track the performance of the largest U.S. equities, selected based on the following four fundamental measures of firm size: book value, cash flow, sales and dividends," according to PowerShares.
Smart beta critics often assert that the strategy outperforms due to heavier allocations to smaller stocks, but PRF allocates about three-quarters of its weight to large caps and a scant percentage of its weight to small caps. PRF is overweight financial services stocks relative to the S&P 500 while being underweight technology and healthcare names. Since inception, PRF has offered modest outperformance of the Russell 1000 Index. (See also: PRF: PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1000 ETF.)
Dividend ETFs are a significant part of the smart beta universe, both in terms of assets and the total number of funds. The WisdomTree LargeCap Dividend Fund is 11 years old and has nearly $2 billion in assets under management, establishing a following by weighting dividend stocks with a methodology that is not rooted in yield or dividend increase streaks. "DLN tracks a proprietary index of 300 large-cap dividend-paying companies and is weighted annually to reflect cash dividends," said Rosenbluth. "CFRA views the stocks inside appealing from a risk considerations perspective aided by the consistent earnings and dividend record of the holdings and the strong credit ratings of the parent companies. Furthermore, we think many of the stocks have attractive valuations."
DLN allocates almost 17 percent of its weight to technology stocks, one of the largest weights to that sector among U.S. dividend ETFs. Including paid dividends, DLN is up 294 percent since the start of the current bull market compared with 249 percent for the largest U.S. dividend ETF. (See also: CDC vs. DLN: Comparing Dividend-Oriented ETFs.)