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Smaller Biotech ETF Hangs With The Big Boys


Only a small amount of ETFs touched new all-time highs on Thursday, but of that group of less than 10 members, five were biotech funds. Excluding the double-leveraged play, the ProShares Ultra Nasdaq Biotechnology (BIB) , a still impressive four of the five plain vanilla biotech ETFs raced to new all-time highs yesterday.

Strength in the biotech sector is not a new theme. It is well over a year old as the group has shown resilience in the face of macro headwinds ranging from the European sovereign debt crisis, the slowdown in emerging markets and talk of Federal Reserve tapering. [A Biotech ETF for Up-and-Coming Drug Developers]

A noteworthy fact about the five non-leveraged biotech ETFs is that there is a little something for every type of investing style. There is an equal-weight play in the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (XBI) and a market cap-weighted option in the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB) . There is a fundamentally-weighted option in the form of the unheralded PowerShares Dynamic Biotechnology & Genome Portfolio (PBE) . [Three ETFs to Play the Biotech Sector]

PBE is small compared to IBB and XBI, but with $255.1 million in assets under management, the fund is not so small that investors need to worry about perceived lack of liquidity or wide bid/ask spreads. PBE, which celebrated its eighth birthday in June, is home to many of the same large-caps found in rival funds such as IBB, including Biogen (BIIB), Amgen (AMGN) and Gilead Scienes (GILD).

Those stocks combine for over 23% of IBB’s weight, but just 12.2% of PBE’s weight. PBE’s 35 holdings are selected based on criteria including price momentum, earnings momentum, quality, management action, and value. [Choosing the Right Biotech ETF Exposure]

Small-cap exposure has been a contributing factor to PBE’s almost 50% gain this year, a performance that makes the fund 2013’s second-best biotech ETF. PBE does devote almost 53% of its weight to large-caps, but small-caps account for another 45.1%.

That is an important trait for any biotech ETF to offer investors because small-caps are not only levered to FDA drug approvals just their large-cap peers are, but smaller biotech stocks often highlighted as potential takeover targets for the Amgens, Gileads and blue-chip pharmaceuticals companies of the world. The average market value of PBE’s holdings is $14.3 billion compared to almost $25.1 billion for IBB.

PowerShares Dynamic Biotechnology & Genome Portfolio

ETF Trends editorial team contributed to this article.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.