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Absolute-Return ETFs Get Timing Right

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A few days ago AdvisorShares started the Mars Hill Global Relative Value ETF (GRV). The exchange traded fund employs an active long-short strategy with ETFs in pursuit of an absolute return.

It has been a while since there have been any absolute-return ETFs listed. The timing of this one, assuming it can deliver on its objective, could be quite good. The S&P 500 is up 60% from its low in March 2009 and down only slightly from its recent peak. A common practice in the industry is to bring a specialized product at the height of demand. An absolute-return fund offers far more potential after a big move up in the market as opposed to after a big move down.

The makeup of the fund as of July 15 was long 100% and short 100%.

While it is difficult to know the exact strategies at work, there does appear to be several in place. The more long-short pairings the fund has, the less risk the fund takes on if it is wrong on one of its bets. For example, the fund has 70% of its long exposure in various countries such as iShares MSCI Japan (EWJ), Market Vectors Indonesia ETF (IDX) and iShares MSCI Mexico (EWW) and 50% of its short exposure in countries at the heart of the European debt problems.

The fund is 20% short iShares MSCI France Index Fund (EWQ), 10% each in iShares MSCI Spain Index Fund (EWP) and iShares MSCI Italy Index Fund (EWI) and 5% short in iShares MSCI Belgium Index (EWK) and iShares MSCI Austria Index Fund (EWO).

The fund manager's interest in being short a couple of the PIGS countries -- financially troubled Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain -- and perhaps a couple of related countries they feel could also be in trouble makes sense, but to the extent that this is a financial crisis and that financial companies would seem to be most at risk if this thesis plays out, it is interesting that they chose not to take a more precise short position in something like the iShares Europe Financial Sector Index Fund (EUFN).

One reason not to use a fund such as the iShares Europe Financial Fund is that it only has $4 million in assets and only averages 26,000 shares traded per day, which speaks to one of the drawbacks of the Mars Hill Global Relative Value ETF -- potentially the lack of precise exposures.

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