5 Actively Managed ETFs Worth the Price of Admission

Some active ETFs are worth their higher fees. These a five are good examples of that.

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Fund fees are falling and that is true of both actively-managed mutual funds, passive index funds, and exchange traded funds (ETFs).

“The asset-weighted average expense ratio for U.S. open-end mutual funds and exchange-traded funds fell to 0.48%, down from 0.51% in 2017,” said Morningstar in a note out earlier this year.

Declining fees in the active mutual fund universe are largely the result of cheaper ETFs continually pilfering market share from their pricier rivals. The reality is, saving on fees improves investors’ outcomes and more of them are realizing this fact. Data confirm as much.

The cheapest ETFs, those with annual fees of no more than 0.10%, or $10 on a $10,000 investment, represent approximately 20% of the ETF universe’s population, but consistently command 80% or more of inflows. Conversely, the 80% with fees above 0.10% garner the remaining 20% of flows.

Low fees are undoubtedly nice, but there are some instances where it’s worth paying up for higher fee products. Today, there are more than 200 active ETFs in the U.S., but combined asset penetration of these funds still pale in comparison to their passive counterparts. Additionally, many active ETFs reside in the fixed-income universe, potentially limiting the audience for adoption among investors seeking active equity exposure.

Still, there are some impressive active ETFs across multiple asset classes for investors to consider. Let’s have a look at the following five options.

ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK)

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Expense ratio: 0.75%

The ARK Innovation ETF (NYSEARCA:ARKK) definitely fits the bill as an active ETF worth paying up for. As an active ETF, ARKK can and does expand far beyond on the confines of traditional technology and internet strategies. This fund can include companies with exposure to healthcare technology, fintech, next generation internet and many more.

ARKK, which celebrates its fifth birthday later this month, can hold 35 to 55 stocks, making it a concentrated portfolio. As of Oct. 11, this active ETF had 38 holdings, led by Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) at just over 13%. That means ARKK has one of the largest weights to controversial Tesla among all ETFs. The fund’s managers have absorbed criticism on social media for their bullish outlook on Elon Musk’s company.

However, ARKK’s performance cannot be argued with and the active ETF does justify its above-average expense ratio. Over the past three years, ARKK has more than doubled in value, but the average return for the Nasdaq-100 Index, the largest technology and internet ETFs over that span is “just” 68.9%.

AdvisorShares Focused Equity ETF (CWS)

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Expense ratio: 0.68%

Eddy Elfenbein, the force behind the popular Crossing Wall Street blog, runs the concentrated AdvisorShares Focused Equity ETF (NYSEARCA:CWS) portfolio. This is an ideal active ETF for investors looking for returns above those offered by traditional domestic equity benchmarks. As of the end of September, CWS was outpacing the S&P 500 by more than 200 basis points year-to-date.

Elfenbein “may look for stocks with a strong history of sales and earnings growth, or companies that have steadily increased their earnings and dividends for several years,” according to AdvisorShares. “In addition, the Advisor may invest the Fund’s assets in lesser-known companies that the Advisor believes have a unique opportunity for growth. At times, the Advisor may buy certain out-of-favor stocks believed to be priced below their intrinsic value, as measured by the Advisor. Additionally, the Advisor aims to keep the portfolio turnover low.”

Ninety-four percent of this active ETF’s roster are large- and mid-cap stocks. There’s something of a value tilt with 44.4% of the fund’s holdings hailing from the financial services and healthcare sectors.

Some of Elfenbein’s favorite names currently include Moody’s (NYSE:MCO), Hershey (NYSE:HSY) and Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST). That trio combines for about 12% of CWS’ weight.

Cambria Cannabis ETF (TOKE)

Expense ratio: 0.42%

The Cambria Cannabis ETF (CBOE:TOKE) is one of the newest members of the cannabis ETF fray having debuted in July. That means TOKE has been dinged by bad timing as it came to market during a tumble for cannabis stocks, one that has not relented since this active ETF debuted.

This new pot fund “seeks capital appreciation from investments in the global equity markets that have exposure to the broad cannabis industry,” according to Cambria. “The Fund will target investing in approximately 20 to 50 of the top companies with exposure to the broad cannabis industry based on Cambria’s determination as to their exposure to the industry,” it added.

While cannabis equities and ETFs are struggling, there are still some positive traits about TOKE. For starters, it is the least expensive among the current crop of marijuana funds. Second, with TOKE being an active ETF, the Cambria managers aren’t constrained by an index, meaning they can look for value opportunities in the cannabis space while lowering weights to or eliminating some of the worst-performing stocks.

First Trust North American Energy Infrastructure Fund (EMLP)

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Expense ratio: 0.95%

For investors that enjoy the income benefits of master limited partnerships (MLPs), the First Trust North American Energy Infrastructure Fund (NYSEARCA:EMLP) is an active ETF that’s worth the price of admission. Over the past three years, this active ETF is up 12.3% while the largest traditional MLP ETFs are lower by 12%.

Plus, EMLP has been significantly less volatile than many of its passive peers over that period, confirming that it has been the better risk-adjusted bet. Home to $2.56 billion in assets under management, EMLP is also the largest equity-based active ETF.

The First Trust fund has also been a better bet than traditional energy investments and passive ETFs addressing the sector. Not all of EMLP’s 47 holdings are structured as MLPs, which helps avoid some of the punitive tax issues associated with dedicated MLP ETFs, but the bulk of the fund’s components are levered to the energy infrastructure ecosystem. Plus, this active ETF still has an impressive dividend yield of 3.75%.

PIMCO Enhance Short Maturity Active ETF (MINT)

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Expense ratio: 0.42%

With $12.92 billion in assets under management, the PIMCO Enhance Short Maturity Active ETF (NYSEARCA:MINT) is by far the largest active ETF. At its core, MINT is an alternative to cash and money market investments and the fund’s 30-day SEC yield of 2.29% is more compelling on the interest offered by most typical cash instruments.

While MINT is an active ETF, the managers avoid derivatives, currency risk and keep the portfolio confined to investment-grade debt. Those traits keep risk low, which is what investors expect out of a cash alternative.

“The fund has delivered strong returns versus distinct open-end and exchange-traded fund competitors, even though its less-adventurous profile has caused it to miss out on some of its open-end sibling’s gains,” said Morningstar in a recent note. “The fund has also kept a lid on volatility, and its cheap fees versus active funds provide another advantage.”

Todd Shriber does not own any of the aforementioned securities.


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