Consumer staples stocks, and especially food stocks, tend to lag during times such as this when investors decide to take on an increasing amount of risk in their portfolios. Let's face it, nobody on the golf course today wants to brag about owning General Mills (GIS) when everyone else is talking about Apple (AAPL). The fact remains, however, that people who eat, smoke, and/or drink are a pretty loyal bunch too. Although some may feel as if they would die without their iPad, all of us would die without food, so perhaps we should look at having some Big Macs to go along with our iMacs.
There are several ETFs that focus on consumer staples. In the food-only arena, Powershares Dynamic Food and Beverage (PBJ) uses their proprietary Intellidex methodology to select food and beverage stocks. The fund is fairly equally weighted with top holding McDonalds (MCD) at 4.88% of the portfolio and bottom holding, Tyson Foods (TSN) at 2.41%. The fund has beaten the S&P 500 (SPY) for the past one, three and five years with less volatility. PBJ has no tobacco stocks, which may hinder performance, but appeal to those who may want to avoid such companies. Some may find the expense ratio of 0.63% a little high for an ETF, but to those folks I would say the lowest cost S&P 500 fund has lost money over the past five years and this one has made money, so you decide what is most important.
Another way gain exposure to this sector is to look at some of the Consumer Staples ETFs. The two biggest and oldest are the iShares Consumer Goods (IYK) and the Consumer Staples Select SPDR (XLP). Both are heavily weighted with Procter and Gamble (PG), Philip Morris International (PM), and Coca-Cola (KO) making up over 30% of each fund. To me, one of the reasons for owning an ETF is to avoid company specific risk, so I'm not thrilled about the weighting. In addition, each fund has some stocks that their respective index may consider staples, but I really don't. For example, IYK includes Ford (F), Coach (COH), and Nike (NKE), while XLP includes retailers such as Wal-Mart (WMT) and CVS Caremark (CVS). These stocks may help add diversification, but I'm not convinced they are really staples.
Since 2000, IYK has performed better than XLP, but they correlate closely and they trade off in performance depending on the time frame used. Both have handily beaten the S&P 500 since 2000. IYK carries an expense ratio of 0.47% while XLP recently went on an expense ratio diet and comes in at a trim 0.18%. This puts the expense ratio 0.01% lower than Vanguard's similar offering (VDC).
Finally, for those who wish to get in on the ground floor, so to speak, we have the Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF (MOO). This popular ETF gives investors exposure to stocks involved in growing food. Top holdings include Monsanto (MON), fertilizer producer Potash (POT), and Deere & Co. (DE). Unlike the other mentioned funds, MOO is international. The fund has 38.9% exposure to U.S. companies, but also has stocks from Canada, Singapore, Switzerland, and several other countries. As with the others, MOO has beaten the S&P 500 since inception in 2007, but can be more volatile than the others. Some of the fertilizer stocks such as Potash and Mosaic (MOS) can have wild swings and MOO certainly participates in these trends. The expense ratio of 0.56% is reasonable given the foreign exposure.
When the markets have a substantial run as they have recently, I believe it's prudent to look for ways to still participate, but tone down the risk some. Consumer staples stocks may not be the hot thing right now, but to me, that makes them worthy of consideration. The market for food is a large one and growing by the day. It might make sense to have some meat and veggies to go along with your Apple.