ETF Investing Strategies to Diversify Your Portfolio

There is an ETF strategy for every investment plan

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are a very popular investment choice. There were 2,339 of them available on the market with more than $4 trillion of assets under management as of June 30, 2020. ETFs can be used as building blocks for virtually any type investment strategy, from the most basic to highly sophisticated hedging.  

Learn about the different ETF strategies, and how you can use them in your portfolio.

Why ETFs Are Good For Your Portfolio

ETFs are an affordable way for anyone to invest and get the benefits of diversification and professional money management. 

ETFs are a cost-effective way to invest in many different stocks, bonds, or other assets. They're a basket of securities that are traded on exchanges like the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). ETFs are liquid, just like individual stocks. They typically have very low expenses, and minimum purchase levels. ETFs are also transparent, publishing their holdings daily.

Investors who are just getting started can use ETFs to pursue a basic investment strategy with very little money. 

Diversifying Your Portfolio

Investors diversify their portfolios into different asset classes (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.) to get the most return for the risk that they are willing to take. A basic diversification strategy includes holding domestic stocks, international stocks, and bonds. Conservative investors will have more bonds in their portfolios, and aggressive investors will have more stocks, with a higher percentage that are international. If you are just getting started in investing, a multi-asset ETF is a good place to begin.

Multi-Asset ETFs

A multi-asset ETF includes different types of assets, such as stocks, bonds, real estate, or cash within a single fund. The fund managers decide what and how much to invest in to achieve the investment objective. For example, an aggressive multi-asset ETF with an objective of capital appreciation might include emerging markets and small-capitalization stocks. On the other hand, a conservative multi-asset ETF with an objective of earning income might include investment-grade bonds, and blue-chip stocks.

Basic Index ETFs

More experienced investors can build their own diversified portfolios using indexed ETFs. These ETFs hold investments that match the returns of a financial index, like the S&P 500 or the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. bond index. 

Index ETFs are a simple way to invest in broad segments of the stock, bond, real estate, and commodities markets. 

Style and Factor ETFs

Within asset classes, there are investment styles that will often perform differently, depending on the economic conditions. Stocks are typically classed by capitalization size: small, medium, or large, and as value or growth investments. Fixed income styles are classed by interest rate sensitivity and credit rating. ETFs are available for any investment style.

For example, you can invest in ETFs that track the CRSP (Center for Research in Securities Prices) small-cap value stock index . Another choice could be an ETF that tracks the Barclays Capital U.S. High Yield Corporate Bond Index, which will invest only in high yield bonds. Factor ETFs focus on companies that have specific financial or trading characteristics, like strong balance sheets or an upward price trend.

Sector ETFs

Investors use sector and industry ETFs to align their holdings with the stages of the business cycle. Utilities and consumer staples, for instance, perform well during recessions, while the consumer discretionary sector does well during expansions. Each sector of the economy and some industries within those sectors are tracked by an index, and there are ETFs available for every sector.

International ETFs

Economic and political conditions can favor some areas of the world more than others. Investors can use international ETFs to capitalize on growth opportunities in different countries and regions. The largest international ETF tracks the FTSE index of developed countries, excluding the U.S.

Socially Responsible ETFs

Socially responsible investing evaluates companies based on how well they support environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. The firm MSCI rates 14,000 companies for social responsibility and publishes indexes that track different characteristics. There are over 100 socially responsible ETFs available on the U.S. markets.

Risk Management ETFs

Investors can use ETFs to hedge their portfolios against markets that are moving downward. Inverse ETFs show gains when an index is down, and losses when the index is moving up. Common inverse ETFs track the S&P 500. Long/Short ETFs in this category buy and short-sell underlying investments based on share-price characteristics. 

Long/short funds try to maximize the upside potential of a market by purchasing shares that are undervalued and attempt to limit risk by short-selling shares that are overvalued.  

Leveraged ETFs

Leveraged ETFs are only appropriate for experienced, sophisticated investors who understand the risks. Leveraged ETFs are designed to deliver a multiple of an index return on a daily basis. For example, a 2x S&P 500 ETF is designed to double the S&P 500 return daily. Leveraged ETFs use debt, options, short selling, and other methods to achieve their objectives. Leveraged ETFs magnify both gains and losses.

The Bottom Line

ETFs let new investors take advantage of professional money management. Seasoned investors can use them to capitalize on specific areas of opportunity based on conditions. ETFs can also be used for highly sophisticated leveraged and short-selling strategies. 

Remember that ETFs:

  • Are liquid, cost-effective, and transparent
  • Can be used as building blocks for any investment strategy
  • Might be used to diversify and take advantage of investment opportunities in virtually any market, region, or sector

Do your research before you invest, and consider how much risk you are comfortable with. If you are new to investing, consider getting assistance from a professional financial advisor.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal. 

Article Sources

  1. NYSE. "NYSE Arca Q2 2020 Quarterly ETF Report." Accessed Oct. 14, 2020.

  2. Investor.gov. "Mutual Funds and ETFs." Accessed Oct. 14, 2020.

  3. ETFDB.com. "Largest ETFs: Top 100 ETFs by Assets." Accessed Oct. 14, 2020.

  4. MSCI. "ESG Indexes." Accessed Oct. 14, 2020.

  5. ETF.com. "Socially Responsible ETF Overview." Accessed Oct.14, 2020.