An ETF Mr. Burns Would Love

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Mr. Burns, the plutocrat from The Simpsons, didn't get rich by investing in newfangled companies.  He is more of a traditionalist. On the show, his portfolio included Transatlantic Zeppelin and Amalgamated Spats. These old-fashioned companies seem silly, but Mr. Burns may have had an innovative idea there: invest in longstanding companies. 

Now there's an ETF for that.

The new PowerShares NYSE Century Portfolio (NYCC) owns companies that are household names and have been in business for at least 100 years.

That doesn't mean that the companies have been publicly traded for 100 years, though. For example, UPS (UPS) has been in business since 1907, but its stock has only been trading since 1999.

The implication of course is that the companies' ability to weather the last century likely means they will do well in the current one.

The PowerShares Century ETF is not a simple market cap-weighted index fund. PowerShares was an early mover in "smart beta" funds, which screen a broad-based index for stocks that meet a valuation metric or some other attribute like volatility or a dividend strategy. NYCC is one such smart beta fund.

The Century ETF also employs an equal weighting strategy. In other words, instead of holding its stocks based on their market cap (basically their size), it buys equal amounts of each of its stocks, regardless of valuation. PowerShares says that "helps the portfolio potentially avoid overweighting overvalued companies and underweighting underpriced companies." The company also notes that equal weighting allows the smaller companies to contribute more to the fund's performance.

More than half of NYCC is in small and mid-cap stocks, which is surprising. Most investors would probably assume a fund like this would be dominated by mega caps like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Procter & Gamble (PG). While those names are in the fund, the equal weighting also allows room for companies that investors might not realize have been trading for so long.

Financials are the largest sector at 23% of the fund, followed by industrials at 20%. Consumer staples, consumer discretionary and utilities each have 11% weightings in the fund.

There is some flexibility on the inclusion criteria. Companies don't necessarily have to have existed in the same form for 100 years to be in the fund. For example, KKR (KKR) is a private equity firm founded in the 1970s. According to PowerShares, it merits a place in the Century ETF by virtue of its investment in Nabisco.

The New York Stock Exchange is the index provider for NYCC. In a backtest that goes back to 2000, the Century ETF's underlying index went up approximately 150%. Compare that to a 40% to 50% increase for various market cap-weighted indices, including the S&P 500.

One of the big market stories from the last 15 years was, of course, the tech wreck. During the period of the backtest, the tech sector as measured by the Technology Select Sector SPDR (XLK) had basically no return.

The tech sector had a 30% weight in the S&P 500 back in 2000 and has always had a weighting in the mid-teens, so it was of course a drag on the performance of the S&P 500 during the backtested period. Tech only comprises 3.25% of NYCC now. Although no information was provided as to tech's weight in the index for the backtest, the nature of the sector is such that very few technology companies are 100 years old.

This does not invalidate the thesis behind the fund. But it does serve to create a favorable backtest versus most broad-based indices. Today the S&P 500 has an 18% allocation to technology. The future of the Century ETF may not be as favorable as it was during the backtest -- that is unless tech puts in another decade of dismal relative performance.


At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

More from Opinion

Earnings Season Is Simply Out of Control Madness - How Are You Surviving?

Earnings Season Is Simply Out of Control Madness - How Are You Surviving?

Why Ether and Ripple -- But Not Bitcoin -- Prices Might Come Under Pressure Soon

Why Ether and Ripple -- But Not Bitcoin -- Prices Might Come Under Pressure Soon

Daily Chatter: Here's Where the Markets Stand After Tuesday's Beating

Daily Chatter: Here's Where the Markets Stand After Tuesday's Beating

3 New Investing Myths That Must Be Busted

3 New Investing Myths That Must Be Busted

Why a Global Stock Market Crash Is Coming

Why a Global Stock Market Crash Is Coming