Instead of pulling your hair out to find the best stock picks in today's markets, exchange traded fund investors can let Morningstar analysts do the work for you.
The Market Vectors Wide Moat ETF (NYSEARCA:MOAT) tries to reflect the performance of the Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index, which utilizes a "wide moat" investment strategy that hones in on companies with a competitive advantage. MOAT rose 4.0% over the past three months and returned 10.4% year-to-date. The ETF has a 0.49% expense ratio.
Warren Buffett is also well known for his preference for large, established companies with wide economic moats that help outperform the competition. Consequently, these types of investment models shun glamorous up-and-comers in favor of steady companies with easy-to-understand business models.
"The key to investing is not assessing how much an industry is going to affect society, or how much it will grow, but rather determining the competitive advantage of any given company and, above all, the durability of that advantage," Warren Buffet said in a Fortune magazine article. "The products or services that have wide, sustainable moats around them are the ones that deliver rewards to investors."
Morningstar says the index uses the firm's proprietary methodology to identify companies with long-term, advantages, which allows companies to earn sustainable excess economic profits, as measured by the return on invested capital relative to the company's cost of capital.
"Examples of competitive advantage include high switching costs, cost advantage, intangible assets, and/or network effects," according to Morningstar. "The index contains the 20 most discounted companies that Morningstar's equity analysts deem to have wide moats, which means that it generally contains firms that have been beaten down."
- Switching costs. The cost of switching technologies to enter a specific industry may be too costly for a single start-up company, compared to established players in the field. For example, Oracle Corporation is a recent addition to the MOAT ETF's portfolio.
- Cost advantage. Larger companies, like Intel or Wal-Mart, enjoy better economies of scale and low-cost resource base, allowing these firms to undercut the competition and bully new players out.
- Intangible assets. These assets include additional factors like brand recognition, patents and government backing. For instance, most investors would recognize Berkshire Hathaway.
- Network effects. This effect refers to the growing value of a service as more people utilize the network. MOAT includes growing communities like Facebook and eBay.
The MOAT strategy makes regular adjustments to holdings. As of June 21, the underlying index added Amgen, Franklin Resources, eBay, Facebook, Maxim Integrated Products, Oracle, Qualcomm and Schlumberger. While some of these stocks have been hammered, notably Facebook, Oracle and Qualcomm, it is interesting to note that Morningstar has kept its eye on these companies.
Max Chen contributed to this article.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.