ETFs That Diversify S&P 500 Risk

August 22, 2019

We have been witnessing a slowdown in global economic growth. We may or may not be headed into a recession here in the U.S. We don’t know what lies ahead, but we certainly know markets are jittery. Downside risk—or better yet, managing downside risk—is rightfully on everyone’s minds.

There are many ways to do that, chief among them the first rule of a good asset allocation plan: diversification. What’s nice today, however, is that the smart beta ETF universe is awash with new and novel ways to not only diversify your allocation at the asset class level, but within a single index.


S&P 500 Diversification

For example, let’s look at the S&P 500. You can own all the stocks included in that index with the same weighting and allocation as the index itself through a number of S&P 500 ETFs, including the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV) and the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO).

If you are really worried about downside risk, there’s a growing universe of smart beta ETFs built around the S&P 500 with downside protection at their core.

Many of these funds are young, and many have yet to find much traction on the heels of a bull market a decade in the making. They also carry higher expense ratios that the ultra-cheap S&P 500 ETFs mentioned above. But these off-the-beaten-path ETFs offer interesting ways to manage risk in an S&P 500 allocation.

Here are three ETF tools designed to do the job:

Vesper U.S. Large Cap Short-Term Reversal Strategy ETF (UTRN)

UTRN is an interesting fund. The impetus behind creating this ETF was a desire not to lose money in down markets. In a nutshell, this is a short-term reversal strategy that looks to buy the healthy losers who are about to be the next winners.

This weekly rebalance portfolio separates healthy from unhealthy companies by assessing low volatility and high volatility price swings. Here, volatility is the key metric for selecting the stocks most likely to make a “U-turn” in coming days.

UTRN performs best in times when volatility is high and asymmetric—meaning, unforeseen. That’s due to the Chow ratio underlying the methodology (explained here). The portfolio invests in lower vol stocks whose price value declined in the previous week, and are less sensitive to a surprising spike in volatility.

Earlier this year, when markets were calm and the market was momentum driven, UTRN struggled to keep up with the S&P 500 due to the low vol environment, and because in a momentum market—when everything moves up together—there are fewer opportunities to find short-term reversal candidates.

But in recent months, as volatility picked up, UTRN has outpaced the S&P 500—much like other low-vol strategies such as the iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol U.S.A. ETF (USMV)—and year to date, it’s now ahead:



If the market indeed turns sharply lower, UTRN should deliver some downside protection with its lower vol profile. Since 2006, the index underlying UTRN—relative to the S&P 500—has captured about 87% of the market upside, but only 80% of the downside, according to data from the issuer.

UTRN has been steadily gaining traction in the 11 months it has been on the market, and today has $28 million in assets under management. The fund costs 0.75% in expense ratio, or $75 per $10,000 invested, and is offered by third-party label Exchange Traded Concepts on behalf of Vesper.

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