I’ve been doing a lot of research recently on ETFs and what’s in them because I’m about to convert a good chunk of my rrsp over to ETFs. One of the new ETFs I’ve been looking at is VEU – Vanguard world equity minus the US. This ETF would replace three ETFs I was planning to buy: VKG – Vanguard European, VPL – Vanguard Pacific and VWO – Vanguard Emerging Market. At first this ETF seemed like a great idea because it would save on transaction costs and would make the portfolio a bit simpler.
Today, however it occurred to me that since that part of my investment strategy is to rebalance on a regular basis, combining different geographical and economic regions into less ETFs might reduce the benefit I can get from rebalancing. The emerging market area is one particular class that is very volatile and as a percentage of your portfolio can easily double or half depending on the markets and is a great candidate for portfolio rebalancing. According to this article by MartinGale the portion of world equity of emerging markets is around 9%. If they keep up their torrid pace then this percentage could climb quite a bit. On the other hand, they could get reduced significantly as well. With the VEU ETF I won’t be able to do anything about it except go along for the ride.
Another benefit with having more specific ETFs is that you can better control the risk level of your portfolio. For example I am thinking of only having about 6% of my equity portfolio in emerging markets since I don’t want the risk involved with the proper weighting of 9%. Another investor might want to go overweight and have 10-15% in emerging markets. Either way you can’t overweight or underweight emerging markets with VEU.
On the other hand, if someone comes out with a world equity ETF which happens to have the underlying weightings that I’m looking for…I would be tempted to buy it and be a completely passive investor.