The 11 Best ETFs to Buy for Portfolio Protection

The stock market took a gut punch recently as a number of on-again, off-again headwinds started to blow at the same time.

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

The stock market took a gut punch recently as a number of on-again, off-again headwinds started to blow at the same time. Investors quickly turned tail, seeking out more protective positions. Unsurprisingly, this trend led to an influx of inflows into some of the best defensive exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

The Federal Reserve knocked Wall Street off-balance with a recent quarter-point drop in its benchmark Fed funds rate. Yes, it was the first such cut since the Great Recession. But some investors were hoping for a deeper reduction, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s subsequent press conference kept experts guessing about whether future rate cuts were any more or less likely.

The U.S.-China trade war escalated next. At the start of August, President Donald Trump threatened to slap a 10% tariff on another $300 billion in Chinese imports effective Sept. 1, prompting Beijing to threaten retaliation. So far, China has announced it will suspend imports of U.S. agricultural products and let its currency, the yuan, tumble to an 11-year-low. The latter move is expected to agitate Trump, who has accused Beijing of currency manipulation in the past.

Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped quickly, losing almost 4% between the July 30 close (the day before the Fed announcement) and the Aug. 5 market open. Some investors are going to cash – but others are seeking out areas of the market that might rise as the market falls, or places to collect dividends while waiting out the volatility.

Here, we examine 11 of the best ETFs to buy if you’re looking for portfolio protection. This relatively small cluster of funds covers a lot of ground, including high-dividend sectors, low-volatility ETFs, gold, bonds and even a simple, direct market hedge.

Data is as of Aug. 4. Dividend yields represent the trailing 12-month yield, which is a standard measure for equity funds.

Kyle Woodley
Senior Investing Editor, Kiplinger.com

Kyle is senior investing editor for Kiplinger.com. As a writer and columnist, he also specializes in exchange-traded funds. He joined Kiplinger in September 2017 after spending six years at InvestorPlace.com, where he managed the editorial staff. His work has appeared in several outlets, including U.S. News & World Report and MSN Money, he has appeared as a guest on Fox Business Network and Money Radio, and he has been quoted in MarketWatch, Vice and Univision, among other outlets. He is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University, where he earned a BA in journalism.