These Are The ETFs To Own As Fed Raises Rates

June 15, 2016


The dollar rallied sharply on the news. Higher expected rates in the future made the dollar a more attractive currency to hold. The decline in the dollar since the last hike matches the decline in long-term interest rates. The market’s reaction implies a collective view that the Fed’s moves are likely to stall or be reversed because it moved too early. The British pound rallied on news of polls suggesting the “Brexit” is less likely. Investors should continue to hedge international bond exposure—(the Vanguard Total International Bond Index ETF (BNDX | B-57)) and consider marginally increasing currency hedging in international equities (the Deutsche X-trackers MSCI EAFE Hedged Equity ETF (DBEF | B-74)).


Most commodity positions fell on the news. Higher rates challenge commodities because the future returns of bonds increase as rates rise. The move in commodities also reflects the effect of a dollar increase. When the dollar rises, it is quite possible for commodity prices to fall in dollar terms, while rising in euro terms.

While the market reflects a high conviction that one or two hikes makes a big difference, I hold to the view that the next few hikes will do little to slow the economy. Rather, they might speed it up by normalizing the economic environment and signaling expected economic strength. Investors should continue to favor commodities—the PowerShares DB Optimum Yield Diversified Commodity Strategy Portfolio (PDBC) or the iShares Commodities Select Strategy ETF (COMT)in spite of the short-term negative reaction.


Latin American stocks can be in the sweet spot or the bull's-eye, depending on how economic trends shape expectations.

The Federal Reserve’s minutes put them firmly in the bull's-eye because the three previous reactions all negatively affect Latin American stocks. Rising rates in the U.S. move Latin American rates higher in order to maintain the spread between the two areas. Higher rates pressure stocks by requiring a higher rate of return.

Latin American countries and companies often issue dollar-denominated debt but earn profits in different currencies. A strong dollar increases risk and financing costs. Latin American economies produce a wide range of commodities for export. Lower commodity prices pinch profits a third time. Given this triple threat, it is no surprise Latin American stocks lagged on the day of the announcement.

Instead, investors should favor European stocks (the Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF (VGK | A-97) and Japanese stocks (the iShares MSCI Japan ETF (EWJ | B-95)). Those countries prefer a lower currency, issue debt in their own currencies and generally import commodities. As mentioned earlier, hedging some of the position makes sense.


Utility stocks, loved for their dividends, were the worst-performing sector on May 18. The competition from higher-yielding bonds requires a high-yielding stock, pushing prices lower. Utilities often leverage the balance sheet more than most companies. Increasing rates imply higher costs for debt, ultimately affecting profits.

In contrast, financials—the Fidelity MSCI Financials Index ETF (FNCL | A-96), the day’s big winnerbenefit from normalizing rates supporting their business model of paying savers and lending at higher rates. A steeper yield curve and mildly positive saving rates benefit banks’ business.


There are two primary conclusions I draw from this research.

First, investing in a slower-growth environment fraught with crises raises the importance of policy to the markets. While we can’t know for certain how policy will evolve, tilting your portfolio toward one of the outcomes may make sense.

Second, make sure you are really diversified. A portfolio invested in long-term bonds, international bonds, commodities, utilities and Latin American stocks sounds pretty diversified. Yet each of those asset classes becomes less attractive if the Fed raises rates more than expected. Investments a world apart can easily move in tandem.  

At the time of writing, CLS clients owned FNCL, VGK, EWJ, COMT, IEI, STPZ, TLT, DBEF, BNDX.  CLS Investments is an Omaha, Nebraska-based third-party investment manager and ETF strategist. CLS began to emphasize ETFs in individual investor portfolios in 2002, and is now one of the largest active money managers using exchange-traded funds, with more than $2 billion invested. Contact CLS’ Chief Strategist Scott Kubie at 402-896-7406 or at [email protected]. Please click here for a complete list of relevant disclosures and definitions.



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