“Low Vol” ETF Inflows Underscore Rally’s Risk-Off Nature

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8 Sector ETFs for 2013When it comes to sector ETFs, the proof is in the proverbial pudding regarding the risk off tenor of the rally in U.S. equities.

Through April 1, the average year-to-date return for the low beta trio comprised of the Consumer Staples Select Sect. SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLP), the Health Care SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLV) and the Utilities SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLU) was 14.2 percent compared to a 10.5 percent gain for the SPDR S&P 500 (NYSEARCA:SPY).

Overt bullishness towards those ETFs and rival funds while materials lag underscores the notion that investors have preferred more docile fare as a means of getting exposure to equities.

There is further confirmation of that as minimum volatility exchange traded products attracted $4.1 billion in new investments in the first quarter. During the quarter, low or minimum volatility ETPs raked in an average of $1.4 billion per month, more than triple the average monthly inflow of $416 million seen in 2012, according to iShares data.

Of course past performance is not an indicator of future returns, but the recent gains by some of the marquee U.S.-listed “low vol” ETFs could be a sign that investors will continue to embrace these funds over riskier products.

Through April 1, the iShares Trust (NYSEARCA:USMV) was up 13 percent year-to-date while the PowerShares Exchange-Traded Fund Trust II (NYSEARCA:SPLV) was up 12.8 percent. Obviously, those are two performances well in excess of SPY’s.

To that end, it is not surprising that SPLV, the king of low volatility ETFs, has raked in $840.4 million in new assets this year, making it the second-best PowerShares ETF in 2013 in terms of inflows, according to issuer data.

USMV attracted $1.68 billion in new assets in the first quarter, an inflow tally that ranks seventh among all the ETFs in the world for the first three months of 2013, according to iShares data. Combined, SPLV and USMV now have nearly $7 billion in assets under management.

With investors favoring staples and health care names, it is easy to see why they have embraced SPLV and USMV. The iShares offering allocates more than 33 percent of its combined weight to those two sectors. So does SPLV, though that ETF’s largest sector weight is 30.9 percent to utilities.

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