Investment Professionals

US Defensive Equities Starting to Look Well Valued

Jul 02, 2018

ETFS Trade idea:  US Defensive Equities Starting to Look Well Valued ETFS S&P 500 High Yield Low Volatility ETF ASX Code: ZYUS U.S. market has been high growth since Trump’s election This cycle looks like it may be turning Investors wanting to retain U.S. exposure but remove the high growth/high volatility companies should look at ZYUS In this week’s ETFS Trade idea, we look at opportunities in defensive U.S. equities and show how it may be a good entry point for ZYUS, which under performed the broader market in 2017, but has picked-up in recent months and had standout performance in 2016. ZYUS tracks the S&P 500 Low Volatility High Dividend Index, which selects a portfolio of the lowest volatility stocks from amongst the highest yielding names in the S&P 500. The story in 2017 - defensives appeared to be out of favour For most of 2017 the U.S. economy was in expansionary territory with GDP growth rising above 4%, the S&P 500 returning 22%, volatility remaining persistently low and normalisation of monetary policy accelerating. Information technology stocks dominated, returning 39%, but other traditional growth sectors also outperformed. Materials, consumer discretionary and financials all beat the benchmark. Defensive sectors, which traditionally include utilities, consumer staples, health care and real estate, on the other hand, suffered on two fronts. Firstly, the economic conditions of a growing economy and rising interest rates were not conducive to above-market performance in sectors such as utilities, consumer staples and telecommunications. Secondly, many companies in these sectors had become over-bought and over-valued in the post-crisis scramble for stable returns and yield, where low volatility and equity-yield strategies gained significant popularity. With rates rising and bonds starting to look more attractive, asset allocations shifted causing under-performance in defensives in 2017 and into early 2018. What has happened so far in 2018? 2018-to-date has seen the U.S. move further into expansionary territory, with GDP growth now sitting at 4.7% and the Federal Reserve having raised rates twice so far. However, signs of the expansionary cycle moving into a later phase have started to appear in recent months. Long-term bond yields have stabilised, inflation has picked-up and the S&P 500 has returned only 2.6% year-to-date. In addition, through a combination of geo-political and economic events, volatility has returned, with the VIX peaking at 37.3 in February and averaging 16.3 in 2018 compared to a maximum of 16.0 and an average of 11.1 for the whole of 2017. Defensives are currently looking more attractive on a valuations basis than at any time in recent years. On a relative-PE basis, utilities, consumer staples, telecommunications and health care sectors are all currently trading at lower multiples than the S&P 500. Even if the bull market still has further to run, now could be a good opportunity to re-allocate back towards defensive sectors. While the economy is not yet showing any signs of slowing, if you believe the U.S. is currently in a late-cycle boom, then it may be prudent to prepare for a sell-off in risky-assets. How does ZYUS’s sector allocation look? As can be seen in Chart 1, ZYUS is currently most overweight real estate and utilities along with smaller over-allocations to consumer staples, energy and telecoms. Information technology, health care and financials are the biggest under-weights. Overall, relative to the S&P 500, ZYUS is 34% overweight to the traditional defensive sectors, despite being 10% underweight health care, which is no longer considered to be as defensive as it once was. How has ZYUS performed relative to the S&P 500? In 2017 ZYUS underperformed the S&P 500 by nearly 9.6% as technology stocks accelerated away. This continued into early 2018 with ZYUS under-performing heavily in both January and February as the sell-off in defensives picked-up pace. This contrasts with 2016, where ZYUS outperformed by 8.8% . Monthly performance differentials are shown in Chart 3, below. Since the end of February, however, ZYUS has outperformed in three of the four months and added 4.7% to the S&P 500 on an AUD total return basis. Volatility-wise, on a 90-day historic basis, the spread between the S&P 500 and the S&P 500 Low Volatility High Dividend Index is currently at its lowest since 2012, as shown in Chart 3. Recently the low volatility screening is providing a degree of risk-reduction even in a more concentrated, 50-stock portfolio. On a yield basis, the S&P 500 Low Volatility High Dividend Index is currently yielding 4.3%, which is more than double the yield on the S&P 500 at 1.9%. Lastly, it is worth recalling that, despite the recent under performance, the low volatility/high dividend strategy has outperformed the S&P 500 by over 6% pa since the beginning of 2000, which demonstrates its ability to outperform across cycles. How ZYUS invests ETFS S&P 500 High Yield Low Volatility ETF (ZYUS) follows a rules-based strategy, tracking its benchmark Index, and has the following features: ZYUS captures the performance of a selection of the high yielding companies from the S&P 500 Index and aims to provide stable returns with regular income. ZYUS selects the 50 lowest volatility names from a list of the 75 highest yielding stocks at each rebalance. ZYUS is rebalanced semi-annually in January and July. ZYUS is weighted in proportion to the dividend yield of each constituent, meaning that the stocks with the highest yields receive the highest weightings. ZYUS applies individual stock and sector caps to ensure diversification. ZYUS has an MER of 0.35% p.a. ZYUS has a Recommended rating by Lonsec. Summary While low volatility and defensive sector strategies have underperformed over the past 12 to 18 months, with the U.S. possibly moving towards the latter stages of the current economic cycle, it could be a good time to revisit these strategies. ZYUS provides a generally more defensive sector allocation than the broader market, uses a low-volatility screening and produces a consistently higher yield.

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ETF Volatility - Truths and Misconceptions

May 31, 2018

ETFSTrade idea:  ETF Volatility - Truths and Misconceptions In this week’s ETFS Trade idea, we look at the misconceptions around ETFs causing volatility and explain why these are myths. High level observations: ETFs have been unfairly targeted as the cause of market volatility ETFs tracking the ASX 200 have successfully stayed in line with the volatility of the benchmark ETFs can cause movements in the underlying market but so do active funds and investors buying securities directly In nearly all cases ETFs match the volatility of the market they track and this is what should be expected from an index tracking fund

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Conflicting signals in the U.S. - Time for caution?

Apr 22, 2018

ETFSTrade idea – Conflicting signals in the U.S. - Time for caution? ETFS S&P 500 High Yield Low Volatility ETF (ZYUS) ETFS Physical U.S. Dollar ETF (ZUSD) The U.S. economy continues to surprise to the upside with markets rebounding strongly. Yet rising inflation, subdued long-term rates and geo-political risks remain a concern. For a defensive U.S. equity exposure, investors should consider ZYUS. Avoiding equity-risk and looking for currency? Consider ZUSD. In this week’s ETFS Trade idea, we look at the outlook in the U.S. for monetary policy, the economy and the dollar. We highlight two funds that can be used in different ways to play the U.S. story; ZYUS and ZUSD. Rate rises on the horizon… Market expectations for multiple rate rises from the U.S. Federal Reserve in the remainder of 2018 have firmed in recent weeks. The economy is still in expansionary territory, though inflationary concerns are becoming more pertinent. US Core CPI rose to 2.1% in March, its highest level in over a year, while March PPI numbers also exceeded expectations. The Fed Beige Book reported strong economic activity, but showed significant business concerns around Trump’s planned steel and aluminium tariffs. Figure 1 below shows the current probabilities the futures market is implying for Fed activity for the remainder of 2018, with two further hikes narrowly the most likely outcome. ...but longer-term growth concerns are becoming more pronounced. While short-term yields have been rising, the yield curve has seen a substantial flattening, with the difference between 2-year and 10-year Treasury yields at their lowest since late-2007 (see Figure 2). Speculation of a curve inversion is starting to emerge. Historically this would indicate that the peak of the current rate cycle is approaching and present a subdued outlook for growth. U.S. dollar weakness continues… Despite rising short-term rates, the U.S. dollar has been in a steady down-trend since early 2017, as shown in Figure 2. This can be partly attributed to President Trump’s rhetoric regarding trade and towards China, but also to a gradual unwinding of GFC-era flight-to-safety trades. …but political risks could be a catalyst With the impositions of tariffs and a potential trade with China, military action in Syria, sanctions against Russia and talks with North Korea on the horizon and February’s equity market volatility still fresh in the memory, there is no shortage of event risk candidates looming. With external events and any evidence of longer-term U.S. economic strength both likely to have a positive impact on the dollar, it appears that near-term risks may lie to the upside. Why ZYUS? ZYUS invests in U.S. stocks from the S&P 500 screened for both high yield and low volatility. As such, the fund tends to be overweight defensive sectors like utilities and real estate and underweight more volatile sectors like technology and financials. The S&P 500 Low Volatility High Dividend Index, which ZYUS tracks, has outperformed the S&P 500 by over 3.6% per annum over the past 10 years and has outperformed on a monthly-basis in over 70% of months during which the S&P 500 has posted a negative return. After underperforming the S&P 500 by over 9.5% in 2017, mainly due to its underweight to technology, ZYUS has recently picked up. Outperformance in March 2018 was over 3% as volatility hit the tech sector and risk-aversion appeared. ZYUS should be considered by investors wanting to maintain U.S. equity exposure, but take a more cautious view on growth and the landscape ahead. Why ZUSD? Investors looking for pure exposure to the U.S. dollar strengthening against the Australian dollar without taking on any equity risk may consider ZUSD, which tracks the exchange rate by investing in short-term USD deposits. How ZYUS invests ETFS S&P 500 High Yield Low Volatility ETF (ZYUS) is well positioned for investors for the following reasons: ZYUS captures the performance of a selection of 50 high yielding U.S shares selected from the S&P 500 Index and rebalanced twice annually. ZYUS initially screens stocks based on dividend yield, reducing the 500 stocks down to 75. ZYUS then selects the 50 stocks with the lowest volatility for inclusion and weights them according to their dividend yield. ZYUS has an MER of 0.35% p.a. ZYUS has a Recommended rating by Lonsec. How ZUSD invests ETFS Physical U.S. Dollar ETF (ZUSD) is well positioned for investors for the following reasons: ZUSD captures the performance of the U.S. dollar against the Australian dollar, by investing all of its assets in U.S. dollar bank deposits. ZUSD currently holds overnight USD deposits with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ), earning interest at 1.30% p.a. ZUSD has an MER of 0.30% p.a., making it the lowest cost U.S. dollar exposure available on the ASX. ZUSD has a Recommended rating by Lonsec.

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The Aussie yield ETF that challenges active managers

Apr 09, 2018

ETFS Trade idea – The Aussie yield ETF that challenges active managers ETFS S&P/ASX 300 High Yield Plus ETF (ZYAU) In the wake of S&P Dow Jones Indices recently published SPIVA® report, this week we have taken a look at how our ETFs have fared against active managers over time. This note highlights ZYAU, which has produced strong excess returns since inception and outperformed many well-known active managers. Investors looking for cost-effective excess returns from domestic equities should consider evaluating ZYAU. In this week’s ETFS Trade idea, we look at the results of the SPIVA® Australia Scorecard released by S&P Dow Jones Indices last month and compare the performance of ZYAU to a collection of well-known active funds focused on Australian equity-income. SPVIA® Australia Scorecard 2017 S&P Dow Jones Indices have been publishing SPIVA® Scorecards for major markets since 2002 and have become leading contributors to the active versus passive debate worldwide. The SPIVA® Scorecards track the performance of active fund managers in each market against benchmark indices across a variety of categories and across multiple time horizons. Looking specifically at Australian large-cap equity funds, as at the end of 2017 59% of funds underperformed the S&P/ASX 200 Index. Over 3, 5 and 15 year periods, respectively, 67%, 63% and 77% of funds underperformed the national benchmark. An equally-weighted portfolio of active funds would have underperformed the benchmark over 1, 3, 5, 10 and 15 years. Similarly, in the mid and small-cap categories, 74% and 75% of funds underperformed the S&P/ASX Mid-Small Index over 1 and 3 years. How does ZYAU compare to active funds? ZYAU sits in-between a traditional active fund and a purely passive index tracker in the area commonly termed ‘smart-beta’ or ‘enhanced-alpha’. Smart-beta funds passively track an index, but the index they track has features that differentiate it from a standard market capitalisation-weighted index and aim to outperform a standard index in much the same way that active funds do. In the case of ZYAU, it tracks the S&P/ASX 300 Shareholder Yield Index, which aims to outperform the S&P/ASX 300 benchmark by selecting a sub-set of constituents based on ‘shareholder yield’ – a combined measure of dividend yield and buy-back yield. Because ZYAU’s investment strategy is pre-defined it has several potential advantages over active funds: its strategy is consistent, published and available for investors to evaluate and scrutinise its holdings are published in the public domain on a daily basis because it trades on exchange, investors can trade intra-day, unlike with many active funds because the fund does not require a team of fund managers to continually evaluate its holdings, it can charge management fees more in-line with passive index trackers. ZYAU’s stocks selections tend to be more “active” than many active funds, with its Active Share, or non-overlapping weight, versus the S&P/ASX 200 currently at 80.5%. This means that ZYAU can better compliment a core index holding in a portfolio. Table 2, below, shows comparative performances and headline management fees of ZYAU against a collection of well-known active funds that focus on Australian equity and equity income. Low Cost Firstly, to note, ZYAU’s management fee compares favourably to the active funds, as would be expected. ZYAU charges a fee of 0.35% p.a., which is below all of the active funds profiled and significantly below the average active MER of 0.83% p.a. Consistent Strong Performance With regards to performance, since its inception in June 2015, ZYAU has generated 2.19% p.a. excess return over the S&P/ASX 200, which puts it ahead of 16 of the 17 active funds. Only Bennelong Australian Equities Fund has outperformed, due to a very strong start to 2018. In the calendar year 2017, ZYAU outperformed the S&P/ASX 200 by 0.63% and beat 14 of its 17 active peers. In 2016, ZYAU outperformed 16 of the 17 active funds profiled and produced 5.42% of excess return over the benchmark index. Since inception, ZYAU has delivered strong performance at a fraction of the cost of many of its active peers and should be, therefore, considered by investors looking for cost-effective excess returns. How ZYAU invests ETFS S&P/ASX 300 High Yield Plus ETF (ZYAU) is well positioned for investors for the following reasons: ZYAU captures the performance of a selection of 40 high yielding Australian shares selected from the S&P/ASX 300 Index and rebalanced twice annually. ZYAU initially screens stocks based on liquidity, free cash flow to equity and dividend growth rates. This excludes stocks that are illiquid, are returning more cash to shareholders than they are earning, or have recently cut their dividend payouts. ZYAU then selects the 40 stocks with the highest shareholder yields for inclusion and weights them according to a mix of shareholder yield and market capitalisation. ZYAU has an MER of 0.35% p.a. ZYAU has a Recommended rating by Lonsec.

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Eurozone Outlook for 2018

Mar 22, 2018

Eurozone Outlook for 2018 Trade idea – ETFS EURO STOXX 50® ETF (ESTX) Economic growth in the eurozone is at the highest level in a decade and the outlook is positive for 2018. ECB stimulus remains intact as inflation remains subdued and the euro continues to strengthen. Political headwinds tapered significantly in 2017, though some hurdles remain on the radar. ESTX provides low cost exposure to the blue-chip eurozone companies driving European growth and offers unhedged upside to a further strengthening euro. In this week’s ETFS Trade idea, we look to the European economic and political outlook for 2018 and highlight potential opportunities as well as some challenges on the horizon. Eurozone economy growing at fastest pace in a decade European data continues to paint a picture of an economy on the up, with positive momentum predicted to carry into 2018. Eurozone GDP grew at a rate of 2.7% in 2017 and the outlook remains positive, with the IMF forecasting growth to remain above 2% for at least the next two years. Moreover, while much of the initial impetus had come from the powerhouses of Germany and France, the periphery has now started to follow suit. Labour markets are looking strong, with unemployment across the region continuing to plummet and wage growth picking up. Despite slipping slightly in February, sentiment remains high, with economic and consumer confidence both at levels last seen in 2001. PMI data remains positive and there are signs that excess capacity is shrinking as economic growth gathers pace. Monetary policy outlook remains stable In the face of an expanding economy, the monetary policy outlook is surprisingly stable. Monetary stimulus in the form of the ECB’s unprecedented asset-buying programme is likely to remain. Inflationary pressures appear subdued, with CPI falling from 1.5% in November to 1.4% in December, well below the ECB’s target level of 2%. The strength of the euro is also aiding the stimulus impact by reducing inflationary pressure from imported goods. In US dollar terms, the euro has appreciated by over 17% since the start of 2017. In historical terms, the currency is currently sitting close to its long-term average level, and many analysts are predicting further appreciation in 2018. Political risks remain on the horizon Political risks, so prominent in the European dialogue over the past decade, took a back seat to the improving economy in the second half of 2017. French, Dutch and German elections took place without major incident as the anti-EU populist threat appeared to dissipate. Italian elections last week saw a move away from the establishment parties. Whilst details on policy directions have yet to emerge, the equity markets in Italy and across Europe have reacted positively this week. Other risk events likely to have a bearing on the shape of Europe this year include the ongoing Brexit negotiations and developments in the Catalan push for independence. How to invest in the eurozone? ETFS EURO STOXX 50 ETF (ESTX) is well positioned for investors for the following reasons: ESTX captures the performance of the 50 largest corporations in the eurozone – all significant global players in their fields. ESTX tracks the world’s most widely traded European benchmark index – the EURO STOXX 50 Index. ESTX is unhedged with respect to currency movements; meaning that investors benefit from a strengthening euro or weakening Australian dollar and vice-versa. No UK companies are included in ESTX, making it somewhat Brexit remote compared to other panEuropean funds. ESTX is the joint lowest cost Europe-focused ETF on the ASX with an MER of 0.35% p.a. ESTX is domiciled in Australia so there are no W8-BEN tax forms for investors to complete and US estate tax is not applicable ESTX has Recommended rating by Lonsec.

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With Volatility Picking up, why Don't you Consider Owning Gold?

Feb 09, 2018

With volatility picking up, why don’t you consider owning gold? Trade idea – ETFS Physical Gold (GOLD)/ ETFS Physical Singapore Gold ETF (ZGOL) Volatility has returned to the markets Downside risks have increased dramatically Gold has been consistently one of the best portfolio hedges against geopolitical risk and inflation Below we take a further look at why you should be holding gold There are three reasons why you should own gold. 1) Portfolio protection against volatility 2) Inflation hedging 3) Event risk hedging Points 1 and 2 have recently increased from “no concern” or “neutral” in investors’ minds to “serious concerns” so we believe that all advisers and planners should be considering including gold in their client portfolios, as it’s one of the most historically reliable hedges in such circumstances. Gold protects portfolios against negative equity volatility Just last week we had an example of gold performing as an event risk hedge when equity markets plummeted and the gold price surged upwards. On 5th February, we saw global equity markets fall with the S&P 500 down 4.1% and the ASX 200 down 1.6%, meanwhile the gold price was up 0.5% in USD terms as investors were turning risk averse. The year-to-date performance chart on the right highlights the price actions of the day. (Source: Bloomberg, data as of 13th February 2018) Historical performance is not an indication of future performance and any investments may go down in value. Gold against inflation Gold is also widely viewed as a tool against inflation. Historically, the gold price tends to appreciate when inflation and interest rates are on the rise. The chart below shows how the gold price moves largely in-line with the inflation (CPI) of the United States. Event Risk Hedge Lastly, although there have been no significant geopolitical events this year so far, it only takes one to roil the markets. As the table below shows, being in gold in nine out of ten of the events below was a positive when held within an investor portfolio. Summary There are three reasons why investors should own gold and two of them have dramatically spiked in terms of relevance. We believe all advisers should at least consider owning gold through this late economic cycle, where the probability of inflation and volatility is heightened.

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