I have met David Kotok, chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors, at several conferences in which we have both been speakers. He is intelligent, amiable and approachable. Recently, I read an article by Kotok on whether or not Federal Reserve tapering constituted tightening. He suggested that it may not be. He also maintained that Cumberland would remain fully invested because it will take the world's economies many years before reaching a stage in which they will need to deal with maturing assets on the balance sheets of their central banks.
Kotok wrote in his conclusion:
When interest rates are maintained at a very low level, the discounting mechanism to value assets works to raise the prices of those assets. That trend will continue worldwide in the major economies for several more years as all of them go through this process of central bank stimulus, plateauing, subsequent tapering, reaching a neutrality level, and then confronting in the out years how to permit the assets of the central bank to roll off and mature over time without shocking those economies.
For the most part, I agree with the assessment that rates will remain low in the major economies for many years to come. I also agree that monetary stimulus will be a saving grace for investors during the next few years, though I'm less convinced that tapering will be followed by forward progress toward reaching neutrality. Instead, I anticipate more twists or QEs, as any sign of economic weakness will foster central bank unwillingness to let an economy stand on its own legs.
Perhaps ironically, Kotok's primary explanation for remaining fully invested for several years is the multi-step process central banks will undergo before they shore up their balance sheets. Nowhere did I read that traditional measures of stock valuation matter; nowhere did extremely expensive price-to-revenue ratios factor into the fully invested decision. Come to think of it, the list of non-essentials is so vast, the "all-in" proclamation does not merely ignore fundamental factors like record high price-to-sales ratios (i.e., S&P 500 companies are barely selling "stuff"), it also ignores sub-standard economic growth, lower-than-normal asset volatility and higher-than-typical bullishness. Indeed, everything is boiled down to the singular notion that the world's central banks ensure success for the fully invested participant.
It is a strange thesis indeed to say that interest rates may rise, but if and when they do, they will move slowly enough that one's portfolio would be insulated. It is even stranger that one should place such a high level of faith in the central banks when these are the same institutions that entirely missed the real estate bubble, the infestation of subprime assets as well as the debt crisis in the eurozone. (Yet now they know what they're doing?)
Don't get me wrong -- I am riding the wave with my clients, too. Nevertheless, I do not mind having a small cash cushion for purchasing on a pullback. I also do not mind adding ETFs that provide an income stream as well as safety through non-correlation.
Here, then, are three ETFs that merit consideration beyond the singular theme of central bank rate manipulation:
1. PowerShares Yuan DimSum Bond Portfolio (NYSEARCA:DSUM). Two months ago, I explained that a meaningful rotation into China equities was well under way in "China ETFs Quietly Becoming Go-To Performers." Last month, I expressed a fondness for the yuan via WisdomTree Chinese Yuan (NYSEARCA:CYB). And now, I am recommending a bond ETF for those who want less volatility than stocks and a reliable income stream beyond merely holding China's currency as a hedge.
DSUM may have an effective duration that is six to nine months higher than its U.S. counterparts, iShares Barclays 1-3 Year Treasury (NYSEARCA:SHY) and iShares 1-3 Year Corporate Credit (NYSEARCA:CSJ). However, DSUM offers an income stream of roughly 3.3% whereas SHY's 0.3% and CSJ's 0.7% pale in comparison. Moreover, DSUM investors benefit from the underlying bonds being denominated in China's currency, as the yuan/renminbi has steadily appreciated against the dollar since 2006. DSUM is one of the only bond funds with year-to-date gains in 2013, and it has a very weak positive correlation with the S&P 500.
2. First Trust NASDAQ Technology Dividend (NASDAQ:TDIV). With the media fanning the flames of the Nasdaq pushing ever closer to 4000 -- with the world buzzing with dot-com excitement over Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) -- less attention is being paid to "old school" tech. I think that's a shame. While PowerShares Nasdaq 100 (NASDAQ:QQQ) currently trades at a P/E near 21, TDIV trades at a more affordable 15. The income stream for TDIV is roughly 2.5% annually, whereas QQQ offers close to 1.1%. While the QQQs may demonstrate 3%-4% greater total return year to date, the more reasonable valuation and greater cash flow of TDIV is likely to help one weather a 2014 sell-off. (Yeah, corrections and bears still do occur in stock markets!)
3. Market Vectors Coal (NYSEARCA:KOL). Has there ever been an industry so universally hated by governments, the general public and now, investors? Yet, with a 30-day SEC yield of 4%, a price-to-book of 1.2 and the current price holding above a 50-day moving average, one might consider KOL as an aggressive contrarian play. After all, you won't find many ETFs where the 50-day moving average is about to experience a golden cross, climbing above its 200-day.
Disclosure: Gary Gordon, MS, CFP is the president of Pacific Park Financial, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. Gary Gordon, Pacific Park Financial, Inc, and/or its clients may hold positions in the ETFs, mutual funds, and/or any investment asset mentioned above. The commentary does not constitute individualized investment advice. The opinions offered herein are not personalized recommendations to buy, sell or hold securities. At times, issuers of exchange-traded products compensate Pacific Park Financial, Inc. or its subsidiaries for advertising at the ETF Expert web site. ETF Expert content is created independently of any advertising relationships.