The Best Investment Mix for Today's Crazy Markets


There's nothing the financial markets hate more than uncertainty, and right now, it seems like nothing is certain. With the once-sacrosanct creditworthiness of the U.S. in severe jeopardy, investors are running around looking for a safe haven -- and coming up mostly empty.

At times like this, it's important to take a step back and try to think about things from a long-term perspective. Although the news of the day can have lasting effects on investing for years to come, you also need to understand that the crisis of the moment quickly fades into the background once it's resolved.

To help you do that, looking at your overall asset allocation right now makes a lot of sense. And to give you some insight into whether your current asset allocation will get the job done, let's take a look at what one respected longtime portfolio manager and finance author is doing right now.

Turning to the Ivy League
Mebane Faber may not be famous among the mainstream public, but he has some interesting perspectives on investing. As the co-author of The Ivy Portfolio, Faber took a hard look at the way that college endowments invest for the long run, balancing the present income needs of educational institutions against the pursuit of long-term growth and capital appreciation. Endowments put up some impressive returns during the boom years of the last decade, although they suffered greatly from the market meltdown that accompanied the financial crisis.

One thing that Faber discovered in his research of college endowment investing is that individual investors can't really expect to mimic the portfolios that endowments put together. That's largely because as accredited investors, endowments have access to top private-equity investments and hedge funds that ordinary investors can't buy.

Perhaps because of that, Faber put together his Cambria Global Tactical ETF (NYS: GTAA) late last year. With a very reasonable expense ratio of less than 1%, the actively managed ETF has already gathered almost $200 million in assets under management. More importantly, you don't have to be anybody special to buy shares of the ETF; they trade just like any other exchange-traded fund.

Bracing for whatever comes
Faber uses a tactical asset-allocation approach in his investing. That means that although he believes that dividing his assets across a wide range of different types of investments is beneficial, he acknowledges that diversification by itself can't prevent disastrous downdrafts. Investors learned that lesson well during 2008 and 2009, when just about every asset class went down in unison, quashing thoughts that simply owning a bunch of different investments would somehow automatically insulate a portfolio from major losses. The tactical part of the asset-allocation mix comes from changing target percentages to deal with changing market conditions.

So what does Faber think the ideal mix is right now? Here's what his investors are getting for their money right now:

  • Almost 20% of assets go to real estate, through ETF investments Vanguard REIT Index (NYS: VNQ) and a pair of international real estate ETFs. With real-estate values still remaining significantly below their bubble highs, the out-of-favor asset class is a fairly clear value play.

  • Commodities make up another big chunk of money, with the PowerShares DB Commodity Index (NYS: DBC) and United States Commodity Index (NYS: USCI) featuring prominently alongside several other ETFs that focus on specific areas, including metals, energy, and agriculture. Many commodity prices have risen sharply, but exposure to commodities gives Mebane's ETF an advantage over many funds that stick only to stocks and bonds.

  • You'll find a wide array of stock ETFs in the fund, ranging from well-known broad-market stock funds to microcap ETFs and funds targeting emerging markets.

  • Despite low interest rates, Faber also holds onto a number of Treasury-owning ETFs, along with the broader Vanguard Short-Term Bond (NYS: BSV) .

In addition to broad asset allocation, Faber appears to make some small extra sector bets in the fund. By owning shares of Health Care Select Sector SPDR (NYS: XLV) and Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYS: XLU) , the Cambria ETF will get some extra zing on its returns if those sectors perform well. Certainly, health-care stocks have had very impressive performance so far this year, and if that trend continues, investors will benefit.

Be true to your plan
Perhaps the biggest lesson from Faber, though, is that it's important to follow your strategy, whatever it happens to be. If you give in to panic, you'll make decisions you'll later regret. If you can stay cool, though, then you'll be prepared for whatever happens.

As Faber's fund shows, investing in ETFs can give you some great opportunities for gains. For some smart ETF ideas, this special free report from the Motley Fool includes three strong prospects that deserve a closer look.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorDan Caplingerthinks chocolate and peanut butter may be the best mix ever. You can follow him onTwitter. He owns shares of the Vanguard REIT Index ETF. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool'sdisclosure policyis tactically sound.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.