Exploring the Dollar Proof Concept, Sector by Sector

by: Roger Nusbaum

As a follow up to Friday's post, deconstructing a Dollar Proof portfolio from Morningstar, I thought it might be interesting to explore the Dollar Proof concept going sector by sector, as while not every equity sector is so easy to add foreign exposure to, many are. In going sector by sector, the context is the ten big sectors that comprise the S&P 500. While there are ETFs for each sector, I think a portfolio that includes individual stocks is a better way to go.

Technology is a difficult sector for me as I believe the sector is still broken from ten years ago. There are plenty of tech stocks that have done well, but almost all of the most "important" domestic tech stocks are a long way below where they were ten years ago. I'm not thrilled with the broad foreign tech ETFs like IPK from SPDR and AXIT from iShares, each very heavy in Japan. I don't mind broad domestic exposure in this sector, but I think Taiwan would be a good place to look for dollar proofing. There is the iShares ETF EWT, the IndexIQ Taiwan Small Cap TWON-- which is not quite as heavy in tech stocks as EWT-- and there are several stocks easily traded in the US, most of which have very high yields.

I am quite comfortable with the financial sector for the simple reason that, from the top down, the sector warned very early on of trouble (its weight in the SPX and the inversion of the yield curve several years ago). It has been quite clear to me that domestic banks and European banks are best avoided for now--this might be the case for years to come. I've been equally vocal about avoiding Chinese banks as well.

We have had good luck with bank stocks from Chile, Australia and Canada. The banks from Norway, Singapore, Malaysia and Israel also seem to be on relatively firm ground in terms of how the businesses were run before the crisis, and I believe these can do well going forward. I also think there is utility in the publicly traded exchanges, including foreign ones. We also own an index provider.

Anyone interested in Singaporean banks could use iShares Singapore (NYSEARCA:EWS) as a proxy, as the fund is 50% financials, and while I am not wild about Brazilian banks, there is an ETF for that; GlobalX Brazil Financial Sector ETF (NYSEARCA:BRAF). Moreso than most (or even all) of the other sectors, I think individual stocks are the way to go for financials, as ETFs seem to have too much exposure to the "wrong" places.

Energy might be the easiest sector to add foreign exposure because just about every country has a big oil company. Even Hungary has its Exxon with MOL Magyar Olaj (OTCPK:MGYOY). To be clear, I don't have any interest in the name, but it is accessible for anyone who is interested. In addition to plenty of individual stocks from all sorts of countries, there are plenty of ETFs that are broad within the sector and also very specialized--we recently added a coal industry ETF. Work still needs to be done to properly research names and segments within the sector, but finding choices is very easy.

Healthcare seems like an easy one for dollar proofing but I might give it a Lee Corso "not so fast, my friend." I think it is easy, but getting there requires a willingness to go beyond the big pharma stocks. If you agree with that statement then it rules out the broad sector ETFs, or more correctly, means not relying solely on them. Above a certain account size we use a domestic big pharma, a Swiss big pharma, a Danish specialty company and a foreign generic company.

One theme that I think could be added at some point is medical tourism, which would be foreign exposure, but I would need direct access as the pinksheet volume in these names is too thin. I personally would stay away from Chinese pharma, as it seems like the odds for something going wrong are quite high. Also, many of them are reverse mergers, which raises other problems.

For anyone not interested in going really narrow with the healthcare sector, I don't think the domestic ETFs are a bad hold. I think there is also longer term opportunity in this space-- with medical devices, which is mostly domestic-- but there are a few foreign stocks here as well. One thing to consider in this space
is that many of the individual stocks have very good dividends, which might be difficult to capture in a broad ETF.

I'll address staples and discretionary together because some of the funds lump them together. For staples we have food, tobacco and alcohol for their very high dividends-- which again, may not be captured in an ETF. For discretionary we use one ETF and Nike (NYSE:NKE), which aside from what I think is a great product line also captures foreign aspirational volume -- note this makes Nike a beneficiary of, not a proxy for. I can see increasing the foreign exposure here via an ETF. There is one from EG Shares and two from GlobalX. I'm not sure what I would add in or when, but there is long term value in capturing the consumer in countries where a middle class is ascending.

Industrials are also an easy sector to add foreign exposure, but I would avoid broad funds like SPDR International Industrials (NYSEARCA:IPN) or iShares International Industrial (NYSEARCA:AXID), because they are heavy in Japan and Europe. There are plenty of themes in this sector-- like water and infrastructure-- which lend themselves to foreign, and defense, for which I would go domestic-- and there are ETFs for these. There are other themes like solar and wind. Each of these has their share of headwinds these days, but the funds exist. I think a mix of ETFs and stocks is best here; we have Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) and a Swedish company, and for people willing to use individual stocks, there are names
to choose from many countries.

Obviously, the materials sector has plenty of individual stocks and thematic ETFs; miners of various metals and resources, chemical companies and food related. Stocks or ETFs, I think either can work and the access is very easy. This sector should be no problem for someone who cares about dollar proofing, given the abundant choice.

Utilities are another easy one, especially for anyone willing to use individual stocks and do some research. There are many ADRs from all sorts of countries to choose from and some ETFs. The funds are not terribly precise but decent yield can be had from the funds, which doesn't happen often.

If energy is not the easiest sector to add foreign exposure then telecom is. Just about every country has a big phone company--even Morocco is accessible through this sector. We use one foreign stock with a very high yield and a domestic ETF with a decent yield. Obviously, this sector is a great source of yield for a portfolio.

In general, the narrower you are willing to go, the easier it will be to avoid some lousy markets and groups of stocks. With several sectors I believe using individual stocks will make for a better risk adjusted result, however-- there will be a lot more work involved. I would not rely exclusively on any type of product, be it ETFs or illiquid pink sheet stocks, but those two along with NYSE or regular Nasdaq ADRs should get the job done. Another reason to consider individual names is that some segments are not covered by ETFs with some examples being toll roads, fisheries and cement companies, although looking under the hood of ETFs at some of the smaller holdings can be a good starting point for research of any segment or sector.

Disclosure: No positions