Stock picking isn't the best strategy for every investor. A majority of professional asset managers are unable to beat their benchmark stock indexes with any consistency. In addition, you may not have enough time or analytical skill to navigate the intricacies required to make informed and effective stock picks. Beyond that, some individual investors simply struggle with bad timing and worse luck. Or maybe you're a bit too prone to making emotional decisions when it comes to your hard-earned money.
Whatever led you to feel burned by the stock market, you shouldn't let that experience completely put you off investing. Putting your savings to work in the stock market is one of the most effective ways to drastically improve the way you live and retire.
But if you're looking for investments that can provide long-term growth without all the headaches of stock picking -- and with a lower level of risk -- consider buying ETFs.
An index fund with a twist
ETFs that track major stock indexes are among the most popular, and there are plenty of good options in this category. Index investing isn't the most exciting strategy, but it has historically yielded fine results. Index ETFs generally grow as the market does, so they'll keep appreciating as long as the global economy moves forward.
The SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSEMKT:SPY) and the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (NYSEMKT:VOO) are probably the most popular ETFs that track the S&P 500 Index, and Invesco QQQ Trust (NASDAQ:QQQ) is a high-profile NASDAQ fund. They're great options with low expense ratios and high liquidity, which makes transactions easy and inexpensive.
Those are the most straightforward ETFs for simple index investing strategies, but I prefer an alternative approach. You can't beat the market if you only own the market, so you'll have to try something different to get better returns. The Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight ETF (NYSEMKT:RSP) holds the same stocks as other S&P 500 funds, but its allocation strategy is different. In most index funds, the largest positions are the largest companies -- for example, the 10 biggest holdings in the SPDR S&P 500 fund make up 28% of the total portfolio.
The Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight fund, however, aims to hold roughly the same amount of each stock. By rebalancing quarterly back to equal positions, it locks in gains from stocks that have risen. This strategy also provides more exposure to smaller companies, which have more room to grow relative to mature mega-caps. Since its inception, the Equal Weight fund has provided slightly better performance than the regular indexes.
A dividend focus
If you prioritize income over growth -- as many retirees do -- a dividend ETF might be a great choice for you. Once again, there are a number of great funds to fill this niche.
The Schwab US Dividend Equity ETF (NYSEMKT:SCHD) is a popular and efficient fund that generates strong cash flows with relatively low risk. It holds about 100 stocks, which its managers select based on dividend history and a handful of fundamental financial metrics. Those stocks passing the screens are market-weighted, but the ETF has a 4% cap, which ensures that no single company's performance influences the fund's results too heavily.
The result is a fairly balanced and stable allocation and an ETF that has outperformed many of its peers. It currently features a 2.8% distribution yield and a razor-thin 0.06% expense ratio, making it a compelling choice in today's low-interest rate, high-valuation environment.
Growth is a priority for many investors, especially young people with a tolerance for risk. Numerous ETFs are primed for high growth, too. These use different methods to achieve that, but I prefer funds that hold disruptive companies without loading up too heavily on mega-cap tech stocks.
The iShares Exponential Technologies ETF (NASDAQ:XT) holds shares of 200 companies from all over the world, none of which make up more than 1.5% of the total portfolio. The allocation is spread out across a number of industries that are expected to grow rapidly and transform consumer and business behavior. Themes covered by this strategy include data analytics, life sciences, robotics, fintech, telecommunication, and nanotechnology.
The fund doesn't make any big bets on specific companies or geographic regions. Instead, its growth will be driven by the adoption of transformative technologies and the returns generated by these emerging leaders. Its 0.47% expense ratio is high, but investors looking for extreme growth might be happy to incur that cost in exchange for the fund's unique portfolio. Investors should also be ready to experience higher volatility -- the iShares Exponential Technologies ETF has been known to endure periodic rough patches as its target industries evolve and grow.