In September 2015, John Hancock Investments launched six strategic (smart) beta John Hancock Multifactor ETFs, with underlying indexes designed by Dimensional Fund Advisors LP (DFA). By now, the product suite has grown to a total of twelve ETFs, three “core” and nine “sector” ones.
Traditionally, DFA mutual funds were available only through advisors operating within the company’s program. With John Hancock Multifactor ETFs, retail investors can access DFA strategies without paying an advisory fee, which is typically 1% of assets under management (AUM). However, since DFA offers a large selection of mutual funds, it is not clear which of them can be replaced by the ETFs.
Let’s start with the John Hancock Multifactor Large Cap ETF (JHML). To identify the best candidates for substitution, we will use the correlation of rolling 52-week returns (conventionally, we would use rolling 36-month returns, but John Hancock ETFs have insufficient history). Although high correlations do not imply product identity, there are a good starting point for further analysis. Here are the correlations of DFA core and large-cap funds with JHML:
Of the candidate funds, the DFA US Large Cap Equity Portfolio (DUSQX) and DFA US Large Company Portfolio (DFUSX) had the highest correlation with JHML. Let’s see what total returns and traditional statistics looked like for the candidate funds and the ETF:
Indeed, the performance of DUSQX and DFUSX was similar to that of JHML, although the volatility of the ETF was slightly lower than that of the funds.
Next, let’s take a look at the John Hancock Multifactor Mid Cap ETF (JHMM). DFA does not offer an explicitly-named mid-cap fund, so we will try the core and small-cap funds. Here are their correlations with JHMM:
The DFEOX tracked JMHH most closely, although at a lower annualized return and a slightly higher standard deviation.
Finally, let’s analyze the John Hancock Multifactor Developed International ETF (JHMD). This ETF was launched in mid-December 2016 and, as of this writing, does not have 52 weeks of history. Therefore, to determine its correlations with DFA International funds we will use a rolling 26-week period:
The DFA International Core Equity Portfolio (I) (DFIEX) and DFA International Large Cap Growth Portfolio (DILRX) had the highest correlations with the ETF. The ETF most closely tracked the former fund:
Although John Hancock Multifactor ETFs have a relatively short history, we have identified specific DFA mutual funds that these ETFs can effectively substitute. However, it should be noted that ETFs trade at market prices and not at net asset values (NAVs) as mutual funds do. Therefore, ETF premiums/discounts and spreads may negatively affect investors’ returns. Nevertheless, these ETFs are worth a consideration by those investors who like DFA’s multifactor strategies but do not want to pay recurring advisory fees to gain access to DFA mutual funds.
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