Exchange-traded funds offer an easy way to save for retirement. ETFs provide instant diversification, like a mutual fund, but also the trading ease of a stock. These funds tend to have lower fees, so investors can keep more of their gains. And ETFs listed in the United States can avoid having their dividends taxed as regular income if they are held within a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP).
We asked three experts to pick ETFs for an RRSP that would be suitable for risk-tolerant investors or millennials who have time to ride out market volatility.
Daniel Straus, ETF analyst with National Bank Financial, Toronto
- The pick: iShares Balanced Growth CorePortfolio ETF
- Management expense ratio (MER): 0.83 per cent
This ETF could be a one-ticket solution for young investors just starting to save for retirement, but it is "not your typical balanced fund," says Mr. Straus. The fund, which invests in iShares' ETFs, is about 65 per cent invested in equity, 20 per cent in fixed income and 15 per cent in alternative investments. Eighty per cent in equities is a more aggressive position compared with the usual 60-40 ratio of equity-to-bonds, he noted. The ETF's fee is on the high side, but it includes the charges of the underlying ETFs as well as the bundling of them together, he said. There is risk in the alternative investments because they focus on a single sector, such as real estate, agriculture and water, but they are small weightings, he noted. "The real estate investment trust [REIT] component may draw down if interest rates go up," and the ETF will lag in a bull market because of its fixed-income position, he added.
- The pick: WisdomTree U.S. Quality Dividend Growth Variably Hedged ETF
- Management fee: 0.43 per cent (MER not finalized)
This ETF, which tracks 300 U.S. dividend-paying companies, could be boosted by proposed fiscal stimulus to the American economy under U.S. president Donald Trump, Mr. Straus says. "Economists and strategists at National Bank still feel that the United States is the most robust of the world's economies," and that it would benefit from infrastructure spending and tax cuts, he added. While rising valuations in some sectors, such as utilities, are a concern, this ETF tries to reduce risk by tracking stocks screened for value and quality, he said. Top holdings include Johnson & Johnson Inc., Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. While returns can be affected by currency fluctuations, this ETF can hedge, not hedge or partially hedge, depending on market conditions, he added. The ETF, which was launched last year, could see its fee decline as its assets grow, he added.
David Kletz, ETF analyst and associate portfolio manager at Forstrong Global Asset Management Inc., Toronto
- The pick: SPDR S&P Emerging Asia Pacific ETF
- MER: 0.49 per cent
This Asia emerging-markets ETF provides exposure to economies that are benefiting from "positive reform momentum, improved economic and financial policy frameworks [including adoption of flexible exchange rates], rising credit ratings, devalued currencies and attractive valuations," Mr. Kletz said. The fund, which is more than 80 per cent invested in China, Taiwan and India, owns names such as Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. This ETF's fee is pricier than those of broader emerging-market ETFs but reasonable given the region's favourable outlook, he added. A risk is President Trump's trade protectionist leanings, which could hurt exports, he said. China, which represents about 45 per cent of the ETF, also has a mountain of debt, and growth of its shadow banks could threaten the stability of its financial sector, he noted.
- The pick: iShares MSCI Frontier 100 ETF
- MER: 0.79 per cent
This ETF's exposure to the world's fastest-growing economies could be a source of diversification for a portfolio, says Mr. Kletz. Frontier markets are less likely, compared with traditional emerging markets, to move in tandem with peers in the developed world, he said. This ETF is mainly invested in Kuwait, Argentina, Pakistan and Vietnam. Weightings can change as countries are upgraded to emerging-market status (Pakistan is set to be upgraded this year, while Argentina is under review), he said. This ETF's fee is on the high side, but that is inevitable given that frontier market securities are more difficult and costly to buy or sell. While the ETF is invested in riskier securities, it has significant exposure to countries dependent on oil-export revenue and would benefit if oil prices continue recovering, he said.
Christopher Davis, director of research at Morningstar Canada, Toronto
- The pick: Vanguard FTSE Canada All Cap Index ETF
- MER: 0.06 per cent
This Canadian equity ETF differs from the S&P/TSX composite index in that it tracks a slightly broader benchmark that gives "modestly more small-cap exposure," says Mr. Davis. In theory, small-company stocks offer higher return potential than larger ones, but that is not always the case in Canada, he noted. For instance, the iShares S&P/TSX Small Cap Index ETF outperformed actively managed funds by a huge margin last year but has lagged longer term. The Vanguard ETF is attractive because it owns all stocks that active managers in Canada can own, but it charges only a 0.06-per-cent fee, he said. The risk to a Canadian equity ETF is its sector concentration in financial and resource stocks, he noted. Because Canada represents only about 3 per cent of the world's market capitalization, investors should not make this ETF their only equity holding, he added.
- The pick: iShares Core MSCI All Country World ex-Canada ETF
- MER: 0.22 per cent
This global equity ETF, which excludes Canada, would nicely complement a domestic stock fund, says Mr. Davis. Investors who own this ETF along with the Vanguard FTSE Canada All Cap Index fund, would have all the equity exposure they need, he added. This iShares ETF invests in five other iShares funds tracking large, mid- and small-cap companies. They include a 46-per-cent weighting in a U.S. equity ETF and 11 per cent in an emerging markets ETF. The fee charged by this global ETF is also reasonable compared with those of actively run funds, he added. The risk is that investors are 100 per cent exposed to fluctuations in the global markets, he noted. "It has no cash. It is not going to play defence. When the global markets fall, so will this fund." Because this ETF is not hedged, there is also the potential risk of losses from fluctuating foreign-exchange rates, he added.