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Tail Risk ETF Delivers Market Crash Protection & A 17% YTD Return

Risk mitigation strategies often fail to gain much attention when the markets are moving up like they did during much of the 2010s. But when the markets turn like they did earlier this year, they suddenly become very interesting.

I keep the Cambria Tail Risk ETF (TAIL) on my watchlist for just such occasions. Its strategy of investing about 10% of the fund's assets in a basket of S&P 500 options with various expirations and strike prices and the remainder in U.S. Treasuries is designed specifically for black swan events, such as the March/April bear market.

During a normal market, the put options mostly generate little to no return with the bulk of TAIL's performance tied to its position in Treasuries.

During the bear market, those put options took off as the market declined giving shareholders exactly the kind of downside risk protection they signed up for. At its peak, TAIL was up 30% on the year, making it one of the best performing non-leveraged ETFs of any kind.

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Investors took notice too. The fund started the year at around $75 million in total assets, but now stands at around $140 million.

Some of that gain, of course, can be attributed to performance gains, but the majority of it comes from organic asset growth.

What's less clear, though, is how much of this is related to a genuine desire to layer on risk protection versus how much is pure performance chasing.

Other risk mitigation ETFs that I watch, including the Amplify Black Swan Growth & Treasury Core ETF (SWAN) and the AGFiQ U.S. Market Neutral Anti-Beta ETF (BTAL), have both posted solid positive returns on their year and have also enjoyed varying degrees of AUM growth.

Severe market pullbacks have been few and far between over the past decade, so it's tougher to get an idea of how these funds will perform during an "ideal" market environment. In the case of TAIL, it was able to deliver exactly what it set out to do - generate positive returns during a bear market and offer a degree of downside protection for your portfolio.

TAIL has begun to tail off again (no pun intended) as the market has recovered. But as a pure risk hedge, it's certainly done its job.

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