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Telecom ETFs Stand Strong as Defensive Destinations


A strong case can be made that the current market environment favors defensive investing. Exchange traded funds inflows buoy that argument.

As of May 16, U.S. ETF inflows totaled $21.2 billion with nearly a third of that total going to bond ETFs. Value ETFs have also been impressive asset gatherers. Although utilities ETFs, one of the beacons of defensive investing, have quietly struggled this month, the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (XLU) has brought in $890 million in new assets this quarter. [Quiet Decline for Utilities ETFs]

Telecommunications, the S&P 500’s smallest sector weight at just 2.56%, is holding up fairly well this month. On Tuesday, a scant number of ETFs reached new all-time highs, but the Vanguard Telecommunication Services ETF (VOX) was one of those funds.

VOX, which had $690.7 million in assets under management at the end of April, is up 1.2% this month, a performance that easily beats that of the Vanguard Utilities ETF (VPU). The Fidelity MSCI Telecommunication Services Index ETF (FCOM) is up about 1% this month. FCOM has pulled in $20.7 million in assets since its October debut. [Fidelity ETFs Off to Solid Start]

Telecom ETFs have gotten modest lifts on news that hedge funds significantly increased stakes in Dow component Verizon (VZ) in the first quarter. Recent 13F filings show the 50 largest hedge funds boosted their Verizon exposure in the first quarter “to the tune of $2.9 billion — a 328% rise from the fourth quarter,” reports William Watts for MarketWatch.

Verizon accounts for almost 24% of FCOM’s weight and 23.5% of VOX. The $614.6 million iShares U.S. Telecommunications ETF (IYZ) features an 8.7% weight to Verizon.

Verizon and fellow Dow component AT&T (NYSE: T) dominate the aforementioned ETFs. For those that think the roughly 17.6% combined weight to those stocks featured in IYZ is too much, try the 48.7% VOX allocates to those names.

However, it is not just the telecom sector’s biggest names that are propping up these ETFs. Over the past three months, shares of CenturyLink (CTL) are up nearly 21% while shares of Windstream Holdings (WIN) is up 18.2%. Prior to Wednesday’s 4.6% plunge, Frontier Communications was higher by 26.4% over the past 90 days.

Those stocks combine for over 18% of IYZ and more than 10% of FCOM.

Investors have noticed the strength in the telecom sector. Since the start of the sector quarter, VOX and IYZ have brought in $135 million in new assets, or nearly 10% of their current combined assets under management total.

Vanguard Telecommunication Services ETF