Growth ETFs For 2012
December 28, 2011
Defensive stocks attracted attention in 2011 as investors ran for cover. But if defensive plays have become overpriced, where do investors go?
Defensive stocks are those that pay steady dividends and whose returns are generally less sensitive to the business cycle. They include consumer staples, health care and utility sectors. A recent Bloomberg article suggests that investors crowding into defensive stocks have made their prices too steep.
If so, growth stocks may be cheap by comparison. A quick look at growth ETFs might help those who follow this line of thought and tend to agree with it.
The Big Dogs
With 50 ETFs tracking U.S. growth stocks, the task seems overwhelming. Let's use a "follow-the-money" approach, looking both at assets under management and new investment flows.
The three largest growth funds by assets are the iShares Russell 1000 Growth Index Fund (NYSEArca: IWF), the iShares S&P 500 Growth Index Fund (NYSEArca: IVW) and the Vanguard Growth ETF (NYSEArca: VUG). These three funds are huge, with billions in assets.
I find it interesting that the most popular growth funds are large-cap, not total market. These funds de-select what would presumably be the "growthiest" part of the market-cap spectrum: small-caps. I can guess why: With record volatility, investors want growth without exposure to the frothiest part of the market.
The net fund flows for these three ETFs looks interesting too. Despite all the talk about the popularity of defensive stocks, each of these three growth ETFs attracted serious new money in 2011. Through Dec. 23, IWF gathered $1.35 billion; VUG $921 million; and IVW $452 million.
So, what are the differences between the three funds that will drive performance for 2012?
A peek at sector exposure reveals some surprises. The two iShares funds, IWF and IVW, show an unexpected top sector: consumer noncyclicals. For VUG, consumer noncyclicals is a close second.
IVW stands out most in this respect, with over 30 percent in consumer noncyclicals, led by consumer staples giants Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble in its list of top 10 stocks. From a sector point of view, these growths stocks aren't radically "growthy." Maybe a contrarian growth play isn't so daring after all.
Why do these funds have so much consumer noncyclical exposure, a sector commonly associated with defensive stocks? Simply put, none of the three funds uses a "style-pure" selection method.
This means some stocks—especially huge firms that have migrated from either end of the style spectrum toward the center—have parts of their market cap assigned to both growth and value. Bottom line: The funds' portfolios will show significant tilts from a large-cap portfolio, but not radical differences.