Big Brother ETFs / Quality Is King

WikiLeaks is at it again—this time pulling back the curtain on how the CIA conducts much of its spy business. If you‘ve been afraid that Big Brother has been watching you, then these latest revelations will do nothing to ease your concerns. The spy business is big business, and now more than ever its technologically-driven tentacles are reaching deep into our everyday lives.

However, it goes far beyond that. Not only do governments around the world exploit technologies and applications for the purpose of gathering intelligence, they are also building up their expertise and cyberlibraries to wage war in cyberspace. For the past several decades, most people believed that World War III would likely end in nuclear devastation or a biochemical apocalypse. However, there is a very real possibility that the next major global conflict will be fought in cyberspace, and the outcome will be a function of an entity’s ability to defend itself from cyberattacks.

Yesterday (March 7, 2017), WikiLeaks published 8,761 files it dubbed “Vault 7” that allegedly belong to the CIA’s Center of Cyber Intelligence. Many people around the world question the motivation, objectives, and procedures of the WikiLeaks organization. However, to date, none of its published leaks has ever been disproven. Comparing yesterday’s data release to the Edward Snowden leaks of classified information in 2013, the Wall Street Journal said, “In one sense. Mr. Snowden provided a briefing book on U.S. surveillance, but the CIA leaks could provide the blueprints.”

WikiLeaks stated it was not publishing the source code of the various spy tools (at this time), but they did identify many specific programs and applications that infiltrate the global positioning, voice, and data features of smartphones. They also have programs that allow some internet-connected Samsung TVs to be used as listening devices, and with its vast library of malicious programs, they can make hacks appear to come from other countries.

With nearly everything imaginable now controlled by computers and the “Internet of Things” connecting them all together, the world has never been more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Defending against these attacks is a lucrative and growing business, and there are now exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”) targeting this industry. There are four such ETFs on the market, but soon there will be only three. The cybersecurity ETFs currently available to U.S. investors are:

  • PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK), launched 11/12/14, tracks an index composed of companies that offer hardware, software, consulting, and services to defend against cybercrime. The index classifies companies as either cybersecurity infrastructure providers (78% allocation) or cybersecurity service providers (22%), and it market-cap weights each segment. Stocks within each segment are then equally weighted. Its top-five infrastructure holdings are Trend Micro (4704.JP ) 5.6%, Fortinet (FTNT) 5.3%, Symantec (SYMC) 5.3%, Check Point Software Tech (CHKP) 5.2%, and Cisco Systems (CSCO) 5.1%. Country allocations include the U.S 74%, Israel 12%, Japan 5%, and the U.K. 5%. This ETF has $937 million in assets, holds 34 stocks, and has an expense ratio of 0.75% (HACK webpage).
  • First Trust Nasdaq Cybersecurity ETF (CIBR), launched 7/7/15, tracks an index of companies engaged in the cybersecurity segment of the technology and industrials sectors. It includes companies primarily involved in the building, implementation, and management of security protocols applied to private and public networks, computers, and mobile devices in order to provide protection of the integrity of data and network operations. It only includes companies classified as a cybersecurity company by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The index employs a modified liquidity weighted methodology and has caps on the percentage allocation of any individual stock. Its top-five holdings are Symantec (SYMC) 7.5%, Cisco Systems (CSCO) 7.2%, VMware (VMW) 6.9%, Palo Alto Networks (PANW) 5.3%, and Gemalto (GTO.NA) 4.0%. Top country allocation include the U.S. 74%, U.K. 8%, Israel 8%, and Japan 4%. CIBR has $188 million in assets, holds 30 stocks, and has an expense ratio of 0.60% (CIBR webpage).
  • Direxion Daily Cyber Security & IT Bull 2x Shares (HAKK) and Bear 2x Shares (HAKD), launched 9/16/15, are designed track the same index as the PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) except having +200% or -200% daily moves. HAKK has assets of just $2.2 million and an expense ratio capped at 0.90%. HAKD has assets of just $1.2 million and an expense ratio capped at 0.92%. Last week, Direxion announced its intention to close and liquidate HAKD at the end of March (HAKK and HAKD webpage).

You can analyze the differences in security selection, weighting schemes, and expense ratios all you want, but at the end of the day, choosing between the PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) and the First Trust Nasdaq Cybersecurity ETF (CIBR), the two primary cybersecurity ETF options, comes down to performance.

You might be tempted to believe HACK is the better choice since it has $937 million in assets compared to $188 million for CIBR. However, HACK has “first mover” status and was extremely fortunate to be launched three weeks before the notorious Sony hack of December 2014. Many of its holdings caught fire at that time, and the short-term pop helped to draw investor attention (and assets).

However, HACK peaked in June 2015, about two weeks before the launch of CIBR. Since then, the performance story has been completely in favor of CIBR. For the remainder of 2015, CIBR dropped 10.8% versus a 15.3% loss for HACK. In 2016, CIBR climbed 10.9% versus just a 3.4% advance for HACK. So far in 2017, CIBR is up 7.0% versus 7.6% for HACK. Since its 2015 launch, CIBR has an annualized return of +3.4%, a standard deviation of 19.6%, and a maximum drawdown of 31.1%. For the same period, HACK returned -8.5% annually with a standard deviation of 22.1% and a maximum drawdown of 39.8%.

For my money, the First Trust Nasdaq Cybersecurity ETF (CIBR) is the obvious choice among cybersecurity ETFs.

Quality completed a six-week climb to the top of the factor rankings, knocking Value down to sixth place in the process. Financials and Technology sit atop the sector rankings, as Telecom falls to the bottom. Not much change from a global perspective, with Latin America still at the helm and Canada relegated to the basement.

Sectors: The Vanguard Financials ETF (VFH) leads the Sector Benchmark ETFs again today, just as it has for 17 of the past 19 weeks. It has gained 23.9% since the U.S. election and 5.5% year to date. Vanguard Information Technology (VGT) is in second place for a fifth week and has been a steady climber for about nine months. It has advanced 10.3% in 2017, 12.2% since the election, and 25.9% since June 30, 2016. Health Care remains at the mercy of political winds but has gained an impressive 8.5% in just the past six weeks, allowing it to secure the #3 spot a week ago. Most other sectors continue to post strong momentum scores, although there are three exceptions. Real Estate reversed course about a week ago and is quickly losing its momentum. Energy has been in a downtrend since mid-December and remains weak, and Telecom is the new sector on the bottom. Vanguard Telecommunications (VOX) has been drifting lower since January 4, and its decline accelerated this past week, officially putting it into a downtrend.

Factors: Quality is king, and the iShares Edge MSCI USA Quality Factor ETF (QUAL) tops the Factor Benchmark ETF rankings this week, wresting control from Value. After months of stable relative-strength rankings, we are now seeing somewhat volatile downside moves. The performance declines have been rather small, and even the weakest factor has a healthy momentum score. However, the falloffs in relative strength have been more dramatic. High Beta plunged from first to last in the two-week span that ended a week ago. Small Size went from third to eighth at the same time and completed its drop to last place today. Value held the top spot the past two weeks, and today it is down to sixth. The leaders have been falling out of favor quickly following slow climbs to the top. Quality has now completed a six-week climb from eighth place, hoping not to repeat the fate of its recent predecessors. Market Cap moved up to the second-place spot, which means that the majority of all the “new” smart-beta factors are underperforming the old-fashioned market-capitalization method of indexing.

Global: Latin America managed to hang on to its top ranking for another week while facing rough waters the past two weeks. Even though it has been losing momentum, the other Global Benchmark ETFs have lost enough strength to leave the relative-strength rankings mostly unchanged. The U.S. moved ahead of China to grab second place, and Emerging Markets slid another spot lower to sixth. Eurozone posted the best improvement of the week, allowing it to climb three places higher, and pushing the U.K. and Japan lower in the process. Canada is on the bottom for a second week and is now in jeopardy of slipping into the red.

The following Edge Charts are market momentum snapshots. They provide a quick and easy way to help you visually get a handle on the overall state of the market. With these charts, you can assess both the relative strength and absolute strength (momentum) of more than 30 global equity market segments. Please refer to the Edge Chart User’s Guide for further explanation.

Disclosure: Author has no positions in any of the securities mentioned and no positions in any of the companies or ETF sponsors mentioned. No income, revenue, or other compensation (either directly or indirectly) is received from, or on behalf of, any of the companies or ETF sponsors mentioned.


The charts above depict both the relative strength and absolute strength of various market sectors, styles, and geographic locations on an intermediate-term basis. Each grouping is sorted (top to bottom) by relative strength. The magnitude of the displayed RSM value is a measure of absolute strength, which is our proprietary method of measuring and reporting the intermediate-term strength as an annualized value.

“This next president is going to inherit the most sophisticated and persistent cyberespionage cultures the world has ever seen. He needs to surround himself with experts that can expedite the allocation of potent layers of next-generation defenses around our targeted critical infrastructure silos.”

—James Scott, Senior Fellow, Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology

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