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Using an ETF Portfolio to Mimic an Endowment Portfolio

Like most endowment-style portfolios there is an allocation to inflation assets. This shows up in some places as "real return" or "inflation protected" and is comprised of commodities and TIPS bonds.

These segments are, of course, easily captured with funds like the PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking Fund (DBC) and the iShares Barclays TIPS Bond Fund (TIP). In the tailing 12 months DBC is down 11% while TIP is up 9%. This segment was up 0.1% for CalPERS, implying it had exposure to both segments.

The final category reported was "absolute return," which was down 0.2%. There are many funds offering access to this segment, usually in the form of long-short funds. The PowerShares DB G10 Currency Harvest Portfolio (DBV) is down 0.1% for the same time period, which is obviously very close to the CalPERS return, but the WisdomTree Managed Futures Fund (WDTI)was down a shocking 20%.

For most individual investors, managing nine different asset classes is going to be a lot of work to achieve a 1.7% return (the result of the benchmark, not what CalPERS earned). But there is value in studying the portfolio to see how the managers of a $200 billion investment fund believe that volatility can be dampened, and how correlations can blend together to seek a desired risk-adjusted result.

Just keep in mind that some of the categories are not easily captured in exchange-traded products. For instance, a timber ETF might be a good purchase at a given point in the cycle, but it will probably have a higher correlation to equities than a stand of trees in Canada or New Zealand that a fund like CalPERS might own.

At the time of publication, clients of the author's firm held EMIF and TIP.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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