4 Ways to Play the Dow You Might Never Have Thought Of

More ordinary people follow the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) than any other market benchmark, and so it's only natural for beginning investors to tie their investment results to the venerable stock market measure. But rather than just buying all 30 of the Dow's stocks, you have plenty of choices when it comes to Dow-related investments, with several different angles that can lead to dramatically different results. Let's take a look at four.

For those who want a simple Dow-tracking investment, the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average (NYSEMKT: DIA  ) , also known as the Diamonds ETF, is one of the oldest ETFs in the market. Its investment strategy couldn't be simpler: currently, the ETF takes roughly $11.3 billion and invests them in equal numbers of shares of the 30 stocks in the Dow. By doing so, the ETF comes very close to exactly matching the performance of the Dow, giving ETF investors dividend income less the fund's expenses, which amount to 0.17% annually. With a track record going back to 1998, the SPDR Diamonds have delivered on their promise to give investors a way to mirror the Dow.

But there are three other investments that aren't as simple but give different takes on the Dow:

  • The ProShares Short Dow 30 ETF (NYSEMKT: DOG  ) has the goal of giving investors a return equal to the inverse of the Dow's return on a daily basis. As you'd expect, this ETF has done better than the Dow so far this year, gaining about 2%. But last year's performance was miserable, with a soaring market costing the bearish Dow ETF 24% of its value in 2013.
  • The ProShares Ultra Dow 30 ETF (NYSEMKT: DDM  ) is a leveraged ETF, seeking to provide double the return of the Dow on a daily basis. 2013 was an incredibly strong year for the leveraged Dow ETF, with returns of almost 65% more than doubling the total return of the Dow even including dividends. The Dow's nearly straight-up moves last year helped the Dow ETF avoid some of the shortcomings that daily tracking leveraged ETFs have in more turbulent markets.
  • On the other hand, the ProShares UltraShort Dow 30 ETF (NYSEMKT: DXD  ) aims at leveraged inverse exposure to the Dow. Unfortunately for shareholders, it did what it was supposed to do last year, plunging 43% during the Dow's strong year. Like its bullish counterpart, the UltraShort ETF runs the risk of eroding its returns due to its focus on daily return leverage.

All three of the ProShares ETFs have higher expenses associated with their respective strategies, costing investors a much larger 0.95% annual expense ratio. Moreover, many advisors recommend against using leveraged ETFs for long-term investing, pointing to the fundamental disconnect between a daily tracking ETF and a longer time horizon. Nevertheless, with such strong returns for the bullish leveraged Dow ETF last year, you can expect performance-chasing investors to ignore that advice and jump in more strongly in 2014 if they anticipate further advances for the Dow.

Stay simple and prosper
For those looking to track the Dow cheaply and simply, the SPDR Diamonds ETF has a lot going for it. The other Dow-tracking ETFs are more appropriate for those with very specific views on which direction the Dow is likely to move in the short run, as they magnify trading profits in a way that isn't always beneficial to longer-term investors.

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