When ETFs began to make their way into the investing mainstream, almost all products were “plain vanilla” funds linked to well-known stock benchmarks such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500. But as the popularity of ETFs has surged, so too has the number of product offerings.
In addition to offering exposure to different asset classes (such as commodities, volatility, and hedge funds), many ETFs now present unique approaches to stock and bond investing by tweaking popular and widely followed benchmarks. The very first ETF, the S&P 500 SPDR (SPY ), remains by far the largest U.S.-listed ETF, reflecting investor familiarity with the underlying benchmark. SPY and the iShares S&P 500 Index Fund (IVV ) represent the two largest funds by assets under management.
Some increasingly popular ETFs maintain similar company exposure to the S&P 500, but eschew traditional market capitalization weighting in favor of alternative methodologies. Others use various quantitative analyses in an attempt to separate the top performing S&P 500 stocks from the laggards of the group. Some even use short positions and hedging strategies to deliver a unique risk/return profile. Below, we profile nine such ETFs and ETNs that put a unique twist on S&P investing.
1. RevenueShares Large Cap ETF (RWL )
This ETF comprises the same securities as the S&P 500 but ranks each component by top-line revenue, not market capitalization, when determining the weighting given to each. As such, RWL will generally overweight stocks with low price-to-revenue multiples and underweight stocks with high price-to-revenue multiples. RWL charges an expense ratio of 0.49%.
2. WisdomTree Earnings 500 Fund (EPS )
The cleverly named EPS tracks the WisdomTree Earnings 500 Index. This index measures the 500 largest market capitalization companies that have generated positive earnings in the past four fiscal quarters. The companies are weighted based on “core earnings”, a calculation of earnings that includes expenses, income, and activities that reflect the actual profitability of a company’s operations. EPS charges an expense ratio of 0.28%.
3. First Trust Large Cap Core AlphaDEX (FEX )
This “enhanced” ETF tracks the Defined Large Cap Core Index. This benchmark is constructed by ranking S&P 500 stocks on a series of growth and value factors such as price appreciation, sales-to-price, and cash flow-to-price. Stocks receiving the highest weighting are included in the index, with bigger weightings given to the top-ranked equities.
4. S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio (SPLV )
This ETF seeks to replicate the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index, which consists of the 100 stocks from the S&P 500 Index with the lowest realized volatility over a span of the last 12 months.
5. ALPS Equal Sector Weight ETF (EQL )
Like SPY, this ETF offers exposure to the domestic large-cap equity market. Unlike SPY, it gives equal exposure to each sector of the economy, investing in equal proportions in all nine of the Select Sector SPDRs. This gives the fund the advantage of diversification, the opportunity to participate in a market rally, and potentially lower exposure to overvalued corners of the market.
6. Rydex S&P Equal Weight ETF (RSP )
This ETF follows the performance of the S&P Equal Weight Index, a benchmark that includes all constituents of the S&P 500. As its name suggests, RSP gives an equal weighting to each component, meaning that upon rebalancing all of the 500 stocks in the S&P 500 are given an equal weight of 0.2%. For investors who dislike the tendency of cap-weighted benchmarks to overweight overvalued stocks, RSP offers a price-blind alternative for large-cap exposure.
7. UBS E-TRACS S&P 500 Gold Hedged ETN (SPGH )
This fund measures the S&P 500 Gold Hedged Index, a benchmark that simulates the combined returns of investing equal dollar amounts in the S&P 500 Total Return Index and long positions in near-term, exchange-traded COMEX gold futures contracts. As such, SPGH provides investors with a hedge against declines in the value of the U.S. dollar relative to gold bullion.
8. ProShares Large Cap Core Plus ETF (CSM )
This ETF tracks the Credit Suisse 130/30 Large-Cap Index using a unique strategy by shorting the stocks predicted to perform poorly and doubling down on those that are expected to outperform. For each stock in the universe, expected alpha scores are calculated to determine the position taken. A portfolio optimization process is used to ensure that the long/short portfolio maintains similar risk characteristics to the long-only, large-cap universe. The portfolio maintains 30% short exposure and 130% long exposure, resulting in a net 100% long position (see more about 130/30 investing here).
9. WisdomTree LargeCap Dividend Fund (DLN )
This ETF follows the WisdomTree LargeCap Dividend Index, a fundamentally-weighted benchmark that measures the performance of the large-capitalization segment of the U.S. dividend-paying market. Allocations given to individual stocks are determined based on cash dividends paid. This methodology may create a bias towards value stocks, and concentrates exposure among the biggest dividend-paying firms.
Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.