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ETF of the Day: Fidelity Low Volatility Factor ETF (FDLO)

With more than 2,000 U.S.-listed ETFs available to investors, it's easy to get confused and overwhelmed with the sheer number of choices. And with so many options, how do you know what's good and what isn't? In this space, I'm going to evaluate and rate a popular ETF to help you make smarter investing decisions.

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Today's ETF is the Fidelity Low Volatility Factor ETF (FDLO).

FDLO is one of ten factor ETFs that Fidelity has launched starting approximately two years ago. Fidelity's factor strategies are in many cases somewhat unique and well thought-out, although there are a couple that don't sit particularly well with me. FLDO falls into the first group. I like the criteria it uses and I feel it has the chance to be a really good fund over time.

ETF Website: Fidelity Low Volatility Factor ETF

FDLO tracks the Fidelity U.S. Low Volatility Factor Index, which is designed to reflect the performance of a basket of large- and mid-cap stocks that exhibit lower volatility than the broader market. Many ETFs define low volatility by looking at the standard deviation of daily price returns relative to a larger index. FDLO uses that metric in addition to two other factors to identify components for the fund.

Let's break down each of these factors one by one.

Standard Deviation of Price Returns

As mentioned, this is a fairly standard measure for volatility. The fact that FDLO considers a full five years of data allows the potential for the inclusion of stocks that may have demonstrated higher volatility in the short-term even though their long-term profile still looks more conservative. This is a minor complaint though. I don't think going back five years instead of, say, one year is going to change the universe of eligible stocks by any significant degree. Using five years of data can actually help smooth out some of the short-term bumps.

Beta

As a refresher, standard deviation measures the volatility of a fund's absolute returns, while beta measures its volatility relative to a benchmark or index. The beta and standard deviation measures will probably tell a similar story, but I don't think there's any harm in including both metrics in the equation.

Standard Deviation of EPS

This is a relatively unique metric for low volatility ETFs and one that I think is a worthwhile addition. This gives a measure of quality to the portfolio by giving it a tilt towards companies with more stable fundamentals. Think of the energy sector. Revenue and earnings volatility are dependent in large part to the direction of oil prices, and can be quite volatile. A screen for EPS volatility helps narrow down the investable universe to just the biggest and best names within the industry - Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), Kinder Morgan (KMI) and Schlumberger (SLB).

The fund's expense ratio of 0.29% doesn't put FDLO among the cheapest in its category, but it's not egregious either. The iShares Edge MSCI USA Minimum Volatility ETF (USMV) is the biggest low volatility ETF around with assets of more than $18 billion. At 0.15%, it's also one of the cheapest and probably one of the go-to options if you're looking to add a low volatility ETF to your portfolio, but FDLO's strategy and reasonable cost should put it right in the conversation.

Recommendation: Tentatively consider buying

While the methodology of the fund looks strong, the asset level of the fund leaves something to be desired. With less than $100 million in assets, spreads are still consistently between 0.10% and 0.20% making purchases and sales of shares more expensive. Once the fund's asset base grows a little more, spreads should come down and then I'd feel more comfortable giving FDLO a stronger endorsement.

What do you think of FDLO? Comment down below!