Stock investors who want to smooth out the market’s bumpy ride now can choose among roughly three dozen “low-volatility” funds. These mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) invest in companies whose stock price fluctuations tend to be less severe than those of the overall market. The companies typically have consistent earnings and cash flow and include utilities and consumer-staple businesses. Over the past 35 years, low-volatility stocks have beaten the broad market by one percentage point annually, on average, although they often lag in bull markets.
Low-volatility funds have become popular, attracting $11 billion in assets from investors, but you should evaluate them carefully. About half are so new that they haven’t been tested in volatile times. Some carry high fees and don’t live up to the promise that they will limit losses in down markets.
For example, the Nuveen Symphony Low Volatility Equity Fund carries a high 1.23% annual expense ratio, and when the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index plunged 14% in the third quarter of 2011, this fund fell nearly as much.
Two attractive low-volatility ETFs with 0.25% expense ratios…
Powershares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio ETF (SPLV), which lost just 4% in the third quarter of 2011, holds the 100 stocks in the S&P 500 with the lowest volatility over the past year and rebalances each quarter. PowerShares.com
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Minimum Volatility ETF (EEMV) chooses about 200 stocks for low volatility from an overall emerging-markets stock index. It lost 5.1% in the second quarter of 2013, versus a 9.3% drop for the diversified emerging-markets fund category overall. iShares.com