Though the stock market has made an impressive comeback from the worst nightmare it saw at the start of the year, volatility and uncertainty continue to dominate. This is especially true, given the expected Q1 corporate earnings decline for the fourth consecutive quarter.
Amid this sluggishness, many investors still want to bet on a slowly improving U.S. economy, which is backed by a healing job market and rising consumer confidence. The rebound in the oil price from its 12-year low, the Fed's dovish comments and the resultant weakness in dollar, added to the optimism, raising the appeal for riskier assets.
For these investors, we delved into the Zacks ETF Rank to find the best picks. The system takes into account factors such as industry outlook and expert surveys; and then applies ETF-specific factors (like expense ratios and bid/ask spreads) to spot the best funds in each and every corner of the space. Using this system, we have picked a handful of ETFs that earned a Zacks ETF Rank #1 (Strong Buy) in the latest ratings update and could thus outperform (see: Our Zacks ETF Rank Guide).
Since earnings growth is expected to be negative for 11 of the 16 Zacks sectors, we have focused on four low-risk, broad ETFs rather than specific sectors. Each of these funds has seen its rank surge to the top hierarchy from #3 (Hold) and could be great picks this earnings season.
Vanguard Mid-Cap Value ETF (NYSEARCA:VOE)
Investors seeking to participate in the growing economy, but wary of soft earnings, should consider mid-cap stocks in the basket form. This is because mid- caps are arguably safer options allowing both growth and stability simultaneously in a portfolio. These middle-of-road securities have the potential to move higher in turbulent times when compared to large and small caps. Further, honing in on value securities in this capitalization level ensures safety to investors. Value investing includes stocks with strong fundamentals - earnings, dividends, book value and cash flow - that trade below their intrinsic value and are undervalued by the market.
In particular, VOE seems an exciting pick heading into the earnings season. The fund tracks the CRSP US Mid Cap Value Index, charging investors just 9 bps in annual fees. It holds 208 stocks, which are well spread across each component as none of these holds more than 1.3% share. Financials takes the top spot with one-fourth share while consumer goods, industrials, consumer services and utilities round off to the next four spots with a double-digit allocation each. It is one of the popular and liquid ETFs in the mid-cap space with AUM of $4.5 billion and average daily volume of 302,000 shares. The ETF has added 0.2% in the year-to-date time period.
WisdomTree MidCap Dividend Fund (NYSEARCA:DON)
Dividend-focused ETFs have been riding high this year on investors' drive for income amid heightened uncertainty in the stock market. This is because dividend-paying securities are the major sources of consistent income when returns from the equity market are at risk. Dividend-focused products offer safety in the form of payouts and stability in the form of mature companies that are less immune to the large swings in stock prices. Further, longer-than-expected interest rates have made this corner a hot investment area. As a result, DON seems an interesting choice for the coming months.
This ETF provides exposure to the mid-cap segment of the U.S. dividend paying stocks by tracking the WisdomTree MidCap Dividend Index. The fund has been able to manage assets of $1.6 million and trades in a moderate volume of 80,000 shares a day on average. Expense ratio came in at 0.38%. Holding 402 stocks in its basket, the product is widely diversified across each component with each holding less than 1.8% of assets. From a sector look too, the fund is pretty well spread out with financials, consumer discretionary, utilities and industrials taking the double-digit exposure each. DON returned 11.1% so far this year.
Schwab Fundamental U.S. Small Company Index ETF (NYSEARCA:FNDA)
Small-cap ETFs have lagged the broad market for the most part of this year due to endless worries stemming from the China turmoil and an oil price collapse. This trend seems to be reversing lately given the spate of upbeat economic data, an impressive rebound in oil prices, and of course, the spring fervor. The pint sized stocks generally outperform when the American economy is leading the way. Given this, investors should recycle their portfolio into the small-cap space to obtain a nice play and FNDA could be an excellent pick (see: all the Small Caps ETFs here).
This fund provides a complement to market-cap indexing and active management by following an innovative indexing approach using fundamental measures of company size by tracking the Russell Fundamental U.S. Small Company Index. In total, the fund holds a large basket of 884 securities with none accounting for more than 0.29%. Financials and industrials take the top two spots at 22.5% and 20.6%, respectively, closely followed by consumer discretionary (16.7%) and information technology (13.5%). FNDA is less liquid and less popular in the small-cap space with AUM of $688.3 million and average daily volume of 178,000 shares. Expense ratio came in at 0.32%. The ETF is up 0.8% in the year-to-date time frame.
First Trust Small Cap Value AlphaDEX Fund (NASDAQ:FYT)
As small caps are risky options which could lead to extreme volatility stemming from huge gains and losses in a very short period of time, value stocks could provide some stability in the portfolio. This is because value stocks often overreact to both positive and negative news, resulting in share price movement that does not reflect the company's true long-term fundamentals. This creates buying opportunities in such stocks at depressed prices. There is also potential for capital appreciation when the stock finally reflects its true market price. As a result, investors could focus on FYT for the coming months.
This fund follows the NASDAQ AlphaDEX Small Cap Value Index, which uses the AlphaDEX methodology to select stocks from the NASDAQ US 700 Small Cap Value Index and ranks them on both growth and value factors. The approach results in a basket of 262 securities with none holding more than 0.74% of assets. Financials, industrials, consumer discretionary and information technology are the top four sectors accounting for a double-digit exposure each. FYT is often overlooked by investors as depicted by its lower level of AUM of $44.8 million and average daily volume of under 20,000 shares. It charges 70 bps in fees per year and has gained 0.5% in the year-to-date period.