A recent Forbes blog post found "lots to love" about health care exchange-traded funds. Unfortunately, the two ETFs it found most appealing, the Biotech HOLDRS
Critics charge that most HOLDRS' components are not updated and changed, beyond the effects of mergers, bankruptcies, and spinoffs. Each started out with 20 holdings, but more than a decade after Merrill Lynch created these vehicles, they're now generally much more concentrated. The B2B Internet HOLDRS is down to just two stocks, with 91% of its assets in Ariba alone.
Talk about concentration…
The Biotech and Pharmaceutical HOLDRS are not that concentrated. Biotech sports 12 holdings, while Pharmaceutical has 14. That may seem reasonable, but in Biotech, a whopping 85% of assets reside in just three stocks: 35% in Amgen
Pharmaceutical isn't much more diversified, with 24% of assets in Johnson & Johnson, 20% in Pfizer
The problem with concentration
If you expect the HOLDRS to give you a fair representation of an industry, think again. The Biotech one, for example, excludes some of the biotech industry's biggest denizens, such as Celgene
The funds' concentration also explains why they were deemed "very attractive" by the folks at Forbes: As each fund component is assessed according to the methodology, funds with a few high-scoring holdings comprising most of their portfolios will get high marks.
Approach HOLDRS with caution, but don't automatically dismiss them. If one of these HOLDRS happens to contain your most favored biotech or pharmaceutical stocks, it might make a good investment for you. If not, you have other good options.
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