When investors think of the largest exchange-traded fund (ETF) issuers, Vanguard, Blackrock and State Street tend to dominate the conversation. However, investors may also want to add First Trust to that list. The asset manager, first known for its unit investment trusts, has quickly become one of the largest sponsors of ETFs. More importantly, its product line has been driven by innovation, rather than by just copy-catting bread-n-butter indexes or strategies.
First Trust’s latest grouping of seven ETFs continues the trend. The smart-beta funds don’t just delve into sectors, but also that of sub-sectors – many of which don’t actually have a traditional ETF backing them. For First Trust and investors, the new funds could be a big-time win.
|Ticker||Name||Issuer||ETFdb Category||Expense Ratio||Inception Date|
|(FTXO)||First Trust Nasdaq Bank ETF||First Trust||Financial Equities||0.60%||20/09/2016|
|(FTXG)||First Trust Nasdaq Food & Beverage ETF||First Trust||Consumer Staples Equities||0.60%||20/09/2016|
|(FTXN)||First Trust Nasdaq Oil & Gas ETF||First Trust||Energy Equities||0.60%||20/09/2016|
|(FTXH)||First Trust Nasdaq Pharmaceuticals ETF||First Trust||Healthcare & Biotech Equities||0.60%||20/09/2016|
|(FTXD)||First Trust Nasdaq Retail ETF||First Trust||Consumer Discretionary Equities||0.60%||20/09/2016|
|(FTXL)||First Trust Nasdaq Transportation ETF||First Trust||Industrial Equities||0.60%||20/09/2016|
|(FTXR)||First Trust Nasdaq Semiconductor ETF||First Trust||Technology Equities||0.60%||20/09/2016|
Seven Smart Sectors
While the marketing term “smart-beta” is relatively new, it’s old-hat for First Trust. It’s successful AlphaDEX lineup of fundamental indexes and ETFs have been great market performers for years now, and they were some of the first funds to use the concept of smart-beta. Its latest suite of seven ETFs follows a similar multi-factor screening process. However, it decided to partner with NASDAQ to create the underlying indexes.
NASDAQ Global Indexes looked at all the various screens and fundamental factors out there and came up with a winning formula that uses the top three. NASDAQ’s new smart indexes will first look at a stock’s momentum by screening for 3-, 6-, 9- and 12-month average price appreciation. This helps to determine if a stock is in a longer-term uptrend. Secondly, by looking at a stock’s 12-month historical stock price fluctuation, NASDAQ can calculate expected volatility. Finally, those stocks that look cheap on a cash-flow-to-price basis are included in the indexes.
The idea is to create an index of stocks with attractive valuations, strong momentum and low volatility. That combo should create the right ‘oomph’ needed to power a portfolio over the long haul.
The kicker for First Trust’s new ETFs is that rather than apply the screen to the broad market, they decided to go small and look at various underutilized sub-sectors – like food & beverage stocks, bank stocks and retailers.
For example, the First Trust NASDAQ Food & Beverage ETF (FTXG) will bet solely on food products, soft drinks, distillers & vintners, brewers, and farming, fishing & plantations owners. That focus is something that is missing from broader consumer staples ETFs. Likewise, the remaining new launches, such as First Trust NASDAQ Retail ETF (FTXD) and First Trust NASDAQ Semiconductor ETF (FTXL), are the first sub-sector ETFs to use smart-beta screens in their respective categories.
These products, plus the four other ETFs – First Trust NASDAQ Bank ETF (FTXO), First Trust NASDAQ Oil & Gas ETF (FTXN), First Trust NASDAQ Pharmaceuticals ETF (FTXH) and First Trust NASDAQ Transportation ETF (FTXR) – allow investors to hone in on opportunities and potentially yield better results.
All seven of the ETFs charge 0.60%, or $60 for $10,000 invested, in expenses.
The Bottom Line
First Trust’s latest suite of factor-focused ETFs continues the sponsor’s focus on innovation. Ultimately, breaking apart various sectors and sub-sectors could be the next wave of fundamental products to hit the marketplace. Like its successful AlphaDEX lineup, First Trust is once again first to the plate. In the end, investors are the real winners, since they’re able to craft better portfolios.