Investors should be seeking to improve their risk adjusted returns. I'm a big fan of using ETFs to achieve the risk adjusted returns relative to the portfolios that a normal investor can generate for themselves after trading costs. I'm working on building a new portfolio and I'm going to be analyzing several of the ETFs that I am considering for my personal portfolio. One of the funds that I'm considering is the Schwab U.S. Small-Cap ETF (NYSEARCA:SCHA). I'll be performing a substantial portion of my analysis along the lines of modern portfolio theory, so my goal is to find ways to minimize costs while achieving diversification to reduce my risk level.
What does SCHA do?
SCHA attempts to track the total return of the Dow Jones U.S. Small-Cap Total Stock Market Index. At least 90% of funds are invested in companies that are part of the index. SCHA falls under the category of "Small Blend".
Does SCHA provide diversification benefits to a portfolio?
Each investor may hold a different portfolio, but I use (NYSEARCA:SPY) as the basis for my analysis. I believe SPY, or another large cap U.S. fund with similar properties, represents the reasonable first step for many investors designing an ETF portfolio. Therefore, I start my diversification analysis by seeing how it works with SPY.
I start with an ANOVA table:
The correlation is about 90%. This is a fairly moderate correlation. It's low enough that we have a chance at lowering the risk level of a total portfolio so long as the standard deviation is not too high.
Standard deviation of daily returns (dividend adjusted, measured since January 2012)
The standard deviation isn't great, but it is acceptable. For SCHA it is .9294%. For SPY, it is 0.7300% for the same period. SPY usually beats other ETFs in this regard, so that isn't a major issue.
Mixing it with SPY
I also run comparisons on the standard deviation of daily returns for the portfolio assuming that the portfolio is combined with the S&P 500. For research, I assume daily rebalancing because it dramatically simplifies the math. With a 50/50 weighting in a portfolio holding only SPY and SCHA, the standard deviation of daily returns across the entire portfolio is 0.8094%.
If we drop the position to 20% the standard deviation goes down to .7559%. In my opinion, that's still too high. Once we drop it down to a 5% position the standard deviation is .7357%.
If I include SCHA, I would probably seek to use an exposure level around 5%, but could potentially go as high as 10%.
Why I use standard deviation of daily returns
I don't believe historical returns have predictive power for future returns, but I do believe historical values for standard deviations of returns relative to other ETFs have some predictive power on future risks and correlations.
Yield & Taxes
The distribution yield is 1.43%. The SEC yield is 1.30%. In my opinion, these yields make the index less appealing for a retiring investor, but an argument could still be made for a position as large as 5% because of the correlation being down to almost 80%.
I'm not a CPA or CFP, so I'm not assessing any tax impacts. If I were using SCHA, I would want it to be in a tax exempt account to remove any headaches associated with frequent rebalancing.
The ETF is posting .08% for an expense ratio. I want diversification, I want stability, and I don't want to pay for them. The expense ratio on this fund is still within my comfort range. This expense ratio is lower than SPY, but higher than (NYSEARCA:SCHX). SCHX is an alternative to SPY that I found more appealing.
Market to NAV
The ETF is at a .07% premium to NAV currently. I'm not thrilled about that, but it isn't terrible. However, premiums or discounts to NAV can change very quickly so investors should check prior to putting in an order.
The portfolio is wonderfully diversified. The largest position is extremely short duration bonds at .67%. I suspect the ETF is using this as a method for storing dry powder rather than holding cash. That would be a fine solution in my book and I don't mind seeing it in the portfolio as long as it is less than 1% of assets. I don't want to be paying an expense ratio on a significant amount of funds that are not invested. For the real investments of the fund, the vast majority are under .30%. This is spectacular diversification and it is remarkable to find this with an expense ratio of only .08%.
I'm currently screening a large volume of ETFs for my own portfolio. The portfolio I'm building is through Schwab, so I'm able to trade SCHA with no commissions. I have a strong preference for researching ETFs that are free to trade in my account, so most of my research will be on ETFs that fall under the "ETF OneSource" program.
So far, I like SCHA for exposure to the smaller capitalization side of the market. The moderate correlation helps to mitigate the higher standard deviation of returns and makes this ETF look like a nice fit for a small portion of the portfolio. For me, that's 5 to 10%. I'd be concerned about investors considering it a core asset and putting in 20% or more, but it looks like a nice piece for that small position in the portfolio.
Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: Information in this article represents the opinion of the analyst. All statements are represented as opinions, rather than facts, and should not be construed as advice to buy or sell a security. Ratings of “outperform” and “underperform” reflect the analyst’s estimation of a divergence between the market value for a security and the price that would be appropriate given the potential for risks and returns relative to other securities. The analyst does not know your particular objectives for returns or constraints upon investing. All investors are encouraged to do their own research before making any investment decision. Information is regularly obtained from Yahoo Finance, Google Finance, and SEC Database. If Yahoo, Google, or the SEC database contained faulty or old information it could be incorporated into my analysis. The analyst holds a diversified portfolio including mutual funds or index funds which may include a small long exposure to the stock.