Managing Safe-Haven ETFs

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It is not uncommon to witness volatile market action during shortened trading weeks and this week is no different. After a dismal Monday overseas, U.S. investors returned from the Labor Day weekend to find heavy losses.

In recent weeks, I have highlighted a variety of safe havens investors can turn to in order to seek shelter from the economic storms. In the days ahead, many of these destinations will continue to offer welcomed relief.

It is crucial to note that not all market shields are created equal. Before diving into any position, it is important to do your homework.

Although it struggled slightly during the final weeks of August, gold appears to be on track to revisit previous record highs. As in the past, I encourage investors to view physically-backed products like iShares Gold Trust ( IAU) and SPDR Gold Shares ( GLD) as long-term portfolio staples rather than short-term trades.

Other gold and precious metal-related funds such as iShares Silver Trust ( SLV) and Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF ( GDX) may hold promise as these shiny commodities find fans. However, due to the magnified volatility associated with these products, they are best set aside as short term tactical plays.

Equities have run to trouble as weak market action drives investors out of risky asset classes. Dividend-paying stocks, however, remain an attractive corner to keep watch on. The strength of funds like iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund ( DVY) and SPDR S&P Dividend ETF ( SDY) is two-fold: Dividends will provide investors with welcomed comfort during shaky periods while equity exposure will help prepare a portfolio for the market's eventual turn-around.

Income-bearing equities have managed to outpace general broad market indices by a comfortable margin throughout this recent bout of market turbulence.

Like gold ETFs, investors would be best off viewing dividend ETFs like DVY and SDY as long-term, core portfolio holdings.

While asset classes like gold and dividend stocks continue to hold up as attractive long term positions, there are some safe havens investors should view with hesitation. The Swiss franc is a prime example. GAs the European debt crisis has remained in focus, the Swiss franc has become a wildly popular destination amongst jittery investors. Fleeing the troubled euro, the CHF has surged in strength, breaking records against other currency players.

While impressive, on a number of occasions, I have warned investors that the Swissie is not a "set it and forget it" position. While the currency's seemingly unstoppable ascension during this period was welcomed for concerned investors, the threat of a super strong currency has weighed heavily on the Swiss government. Fearing that the Swiss National Bank would take action to pare back the franc's rise, I have encouraged investors to stay flexible and keep exposure to funds like the CurrencyShares Swiss Franc ( FXF) small.

At the start of this week, these concerns came to fruition. The SNB stole headlines around the globe announcing that it was taking steps to weaken the franc. According to the release, in an effort to achieve this goal, the body is, "prepared to buy foreign currencies in unlimited quantities."

Although the Swissie and FXF may witness strength in the foreseeable future, for now conservative investors will likely be best sticking to the sidelines here.

Defensive ETFs will likely generate interest in the days and weeks ahead as resounding market turmoil leads many investors to abandon risk. While it may be tempting to dive headfirst into anything that resembles a safe haven, as we have witnessed recently, not every line of defense is equal. Preparation is the key to developing safe and effective protection.

Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.

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At the time of publication, Dion Money Management owned iShares Gold Trust and iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund.

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