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What are we looking for?

Low-volatility exchange-traded funds for those wary of turbulence.

The screen

Last week I wrote about a strategy focused on Canadian-listed companies that might help jittery investors brace for a potential market correction. Today, I turn my attention to the world of low-volatility ETFs, a reasonable option for those who wish to gain broad exposure to a market without managing a portfolio of individual stocks. Low volatility ETFs typically leverage a rules-driven approach, using portfolio weighting to place emphasis on stocks that exhibit stable characteristics. The concept is that the portfolio as a whole exhibits less turbulence than the broad market. Many of these strategies are considered strategic beta or “smart” beta strategies, a type of investment that straddles the line between active and passive.

The benefit of strategic beta is that the portfolio’s style remains consistent and does not waver from the stated investment objective. The tradeoff in achieving lower volatility is that the strategy doesn’t always work out in the investor’s favour. Case in point, the majority of low-volatility ETFs have underperformed their category peers given the rambunctious growth of the market. Nevertheless, low-volatility ETFs are a worthwhile consideration for investors who wish to cautiously remain in equities.

For some ideas, I turned to Morningstar Direct to look for low-volatility ETFs that have received a Morningstar Quantitative Rating or Morningstar Analyst rating of gold, silver or bronze. This rating, unlike the star rating, is Morningstar’s forward-looking assessment of a fund’s ability to outperform peers in the future on an after-fee basis. In the years that the rating has been in existence we’ve found that as a group, medalist-rated funds (gold, silver or bronze) have outperformed neutral or negatively rated funds, after receiving their ratings.

More about Morningstar

Morningstar Research Inc. is a leading provider of independent investment research in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Morningstar offers an extensive line of products and services for individual investors, financial advisers, asset managers, retirement plan providers and sponsors, and institutional investors. Morningstar Direct is the firm’s multi-asset analysis platform built for asset management and financial services professionals. Morningstar Canada on Twitter: @MorningstarCDN.

What we found

Select low-volatility exchange-traded funds

FundTickerMorningstar CategoryMorningstar Rating OverallMorningstar Quantitative RatingMER (%)YTD Ttl. Rtn. (%)1Y Ttl. Rtn. (%)3Y Ann. Ttl. Rtn. (%)5Y Ann. Ttl. Rtn. (%)Inception Date
BMO Low Volatility Canadian Equity ETFZLB-TCanadian Equity4 StarsBronze*0.3918.127.612.39.42011-10-21
Fidelity Canadian Low Volatility ETFFCCL-TCanadian EquityNot ratedSilver0.3917.426.6n/an/a2019-01-18
iShares MSCI Min Vol Canada ETFXMV-TCanadian Equity3 StarsSilver*0.3318.726.310.68.12012-07-24
Mackenzie Maximum Divers Can ETFMKC-TCanadian Equity3 StarsBronze0.5015.620.012.18.52016-06-21
iShares MSCI Min Vol Emerg Mkts ETFXMM-TEmerg. Mkts. Eqty.2 StarsSilver*0.424.011.23.84.32012-07-24
iShares MSCI Min Vol Global ETFXMW-TGlobal Equity2 StarsSilver*0.489.612.87.47.62012-07-24
Mackenzie Max Divers All Wld Dev ETFMWD-TGlobal Equity3 StarsBronze0.559.317.99.710.12016-09-07
Vanguard Global Minimum Volatility ETFVVO-TGlobal Equity2 StarsSilver0.365.513.74.17.02016-06-14
iShares MSCI Min Vol EAFE ETFXMI-TInt'l Equity2 StarsSilver*0.378.712.74.54.82012-07-24
BMO Low Volatility US Equity ETF (CAD)ZLU-TU.S. Equity2 StarsBronze*0.3311.215.810.59.42013-03-19
Fidelity US Low Volatility ETFFCUL-TU.S. EquityNot ratedSilver0.3912.017.2n/an/a2019-01-18
iShares MSCI Min Vol USA ETFXMU-TU.S. Equity3 StarsSilver0.3311.916.410.611.42012-07-24

Source: Morningstar Direct. Data as of Sept. 21. *Denotes Morningstar Analyst Rating

The list of ETFs that met the requirement are listed in the table alongside trailing performance, Morningstar category, MERs, inception dates and ratings. Note that of those listed, BMO Low Volatility Canadian Equity ETF (ZLB) is the sole four-star fund, implying that it has managed to beat its peer group of Canadian equity funds on a risk-adjusted basis, after fees, over multiple trailing periods. Investors are urged to pay attention to the category to which each ETF belongs; this describes the geographic exposure of each ETF’s holdings.

This article does not constitute financial advice. It is always recommended to speak with a financial adviser or professional before investing.

Ian Tam, CFA, is director of investment research for Morningstar Canada.

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