“Cash is king” is one of the great maxims in the investment world. It’s a spiffy, cogent and comforting thought, and companies that produce a lot of cash generally are doing something right. And that’s the premise behind the TrimTabs Intl Free-Cash-Flow ETF (FCFI) that began trading today on the NYSE Arca.
The exchange-traded fund tracks the TrimTabs Intl Free-Cash-Flow Index comprised of companies with the top free cash flow yields in ten international markets. Free cash flow yield is a company’s free cash flow divided by market capitalization, and a high yield denotes a profitable corporation with a healthy balance sheet. And unlike earnings numbers that can be massaged through accounting gimmicks, free cash flow is a metric that in comparison is as pure as the driven snow.
The FCFI fund is sponsored by TrimTabs Asset Management, a money management firm in Sausalito, Calif., that’s also the sub-advisor to the AdvisorShares TrimTabs Float Shrink ETF (TTFS) that hit the market in 2011. TrimTabs uses a proprietary methodology that combines float shrink, free cash flow and leverage criterion.
The new ETF focuses on companies in the following markets: Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Japan, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, South Korea, and Australia. The underlying index has 100 constituents, and the fund is equal weighted with a 10% allocation to each country. Portfolio holdings in each country are ranked by free cash flow yield and are equal weighted.
The TrimTabs Intl Free-Cash-Flow ETF’s top five holdings are ABB, Zurich Insurance Group, Adecco, Swatch Group and Aegon. The fund’s expense ratio is 0.69 percent.
TrimTabs says it wanted to stay with mainstream markets where most investors want to be regarding international equity funds. “You want to stay where most of the assets will be,” says Minyi Chen, portfolio manager at TrimTabs Asset Management.
“The logic behind investing in companies with the highest free cash flow is you want to invest in companies making money from their operations,” he adds. “That’s the essence of investing.”
Free cash flow is the money companies have on their books after deducting operating expenses, and it can used for corporate purposes such as re-investing in the business or making acquisitions, or for shareholder-friendly measures such as boosting dividends or doing share buybacks. The TrimTabs ETF seeks companies that generate cash, but it doesn’t account for what the companies ultimately do with that money.
TrimTabs bills the FCFI fund as the first of its kind devoted to international companies with the highest free cash flow yields. Chen says TrimTabs has a domestic-oriented free cash flow-focused ETF already approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission and ready for trading when the company feels the time is right.
But it won’t be the first domestic-oriented, cash flow-centric ETF on the market, even if it’ll likely differ from the incumbent Cambria Shareholder Yield ETF (SYLD), an actively managed, algorithm-based product comprised of U.S.-listed companies focused on returning free cash flow to shareholders. Its portfolio consists of 100 stocks with market caps greater than $200 million that rank highest in either paying cash dividends, doing share buybacks or paying down balance sheet debt.