Remember when index funds simply tracked the broad markets? I do, but I also remember renting movies on VHS and watching the Leafs in the second round of the playoffs.
Today there are ETFs tracking every conceivable segment of the market. Many are little more than flavours of the month, but one new breed is probably here to stay. Like old-school ETFs, they’re built from indexes, but they don’t simply track the whole market or a single geographic or economic sector. Instead, they focus on stocks with specific characteristics (called factors) that can be expected to lead to higher long-term returns.
For example, some of these ETFs screen for companies with low prices relative to their fundamentals (value stocks), while others cover only small-cap stocks, those trending upwards in price (momentum stocks), or those with lower volatility. Collectively these strategies have come to be called smart beta.
Consider an investor looking for an ETF of Canadian equities as part of a balanced portfolio. A traditional indexer would use a fund tracking the broad market, such as the iShares Core S&P/TSX Capped Composite (XIC), or the Vanguard FTSE Canada All Cap (VCN).