3 ETF Trends That Might Shock the 'Risk-On' Mindset

NEW YORK (ETF Expert) --How long did investors fret the possible combination of employment weakness and the U.S. Federal Reserve staying the course of incremental tapering? One day. On Tuesday , dip buyers gobbled up riskier assets and short-sellers covered their backsides as soon as a better-than expected retail sales report alleviated concerns.

A perusal of month-over-month data revealed remarkable performance gains for a variety of high-beta exchange-traded funds:

High Risk ETFs Remain Very Hot      
        5-Day %   1 Month %
SPDR Biotech (XBI)     13.5%   21.3%
iShares MSCI Spain (EWP)   3.1%   13.2%
Guggenheim Global Solar (TAN) 2.7%   22.3%
iShares MSCI Europe Financials (EUFN) 2.4%   11.1%
iShares Russell Microcap (IWC) 1.5%   8.3%
S&P 500 SPDR Trust (SPY)   0.0%   3.5%

However, the idea that investors see "risk on" opportunity around every corner may be overstated. Here are three ETF trends that might shock the simplistic notion that stocks are the only asset in demand.

1. A Turnaround for Longer Maturity Bonds? The advice that many financial professionals have been giving has been to avoid the long end of the bond curve and embrace shorter maturity bonds for the fixed income portion of an allocation. Admittedly, that's the approach I have taken with my clients for the better part of a year. By the same token, I am watching to see when -- and under what circumstances -- a "flight to quality" trade returns.

Technical analysts would be hard-pressed to ignore a combination of factors that appear to favor iShares 20+ Year Treasury (TLT). First, this exchange-traded tracker appears to have strong support at 52-week lows set back in August. Second, TLT recently climbed above its intermediate-term trendline (100-day). While the price of TLT may have crossed above its 100-day moving average back in October before faltering, this time the slope of the line itself appears as though it may turn positive.

While I will not be investing in TLT at this time, a string of questionable economic data points and/or poor fourth-quarter earnings could result in surprisingly robust demand for long bonds.

2. Safety Seekers Love China. In October 2013, I recommended that currency ETF enthusiasts take a look at WisdomTree Chinese Yuan (CYB). The yuan/renminbi has risen steadily since 2006 against the U.S. dollar. Even though China monitors the extent that it will allow its currency to appreciate, there's little reason to expect any changes to the basic dynamic; that is, the U.S. is maintaining an incredibly loose monetary policy here in 2014 when compared with China's concern about inflation.

In essence, even those who believe the dollar will strengthen against most developed world currencies in 2014, safe haven seekers believe that a portion of their cash should be in China's currency.

In November, I offered another compelling way to play China's currency as well as the safety of its government bonds. PowerShares Yuan Dim Sum Bond (DSUM) provides a reliable income stream on a fixed income portfolio with short-term maturing bonds. Funds like iShares 1-3 Year Treasury (SHY) may provide a measure of safety for its 0.3% annualized yield, yet  DSUM serves up closer to 3% with probable capital appreciation.

3. Yield Curve Flatter, Not Steeper in 2014? In 2013, perceived economic well-being coupled with the Fed signaling an intent to slow its asset purchases sent 10-year and 30-year U.S. bonds down much faster than shorter-term bonds (e.g., one-year, five-year, etc.). This could be seen in a steeper yield curve. Some also profited from the trend via iPath Treasury Steepener (STPP).

In 2014, however, a different picture may be developing. Money has been slowly creeping back into assets on both the long end of the yield curve as well rates-sensitive real estate investment trusts.

In contrast, demand for the shortest end of the Treasury curve (e.g., one to three years) has been neutral at best. The consequence? The yield curve is stabilizing and may ultimately flatten as the year progresses; in other words, yields on shorter-term bonds may rise while yields on longer-term bonds run in place. Year-to-date, iPath Treasury Flattener ETN (FLAT) may be signaling a changing of the guard.


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

Certified Financial Planner Gary A. Gordon, MS, is the president of Pacific Park Financial, an SEC-registered investment adviser in California. He has more than 23 years of experience as a personal coach in ¿money matters,¿ including risk assessment, small-business development and portfolio management, and has taught finance in Mexico, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the U.S. He wrote the draft copy for ¿Maverick Investing,¿ a McGraw-Hill publication, and writes commentary for Seeking Alpha in addition to ETF Expert, for which he also hosts the ETF Expert Radio Podcast.

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