Can you make serious money by capitalizing on human foibles?

Because of fear, greed and other emotions, most people are terrible at managing their own money. So fund managers are trying to figure out how they can use behavioral finance -- proven insights about people's foolishness with finances -- to select a basket of investments they can offer as a low-fee exchange-traded fund.

"A lot of investment nerds have thought this has been a long time coming," said Dave Nadig, chief executive officer of popular informational resource "And I think there will be more of these products going forward. But taking the insight that people make non-rational decisions and applying that to the markets is really tough."

If anyone can figure it out, it is probably economics Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler, the reigning king of behavioral finance. Fuller & Thaler Asset Management, run by a team that includes Thaler and firm President Russell Fuller, does not offer a behavioral ETF, but it does offer the actively managed Behavioral Small-Cap Equity fund, which has reliably ranked in the top 2 or 3 percent of all small-cap funds.

A classic pick: Domino's Pizza, which many investors avoided because of bad college memories of subpar slices. But when the chain started churning out positive earnings surprises, Fuller & Thaler started ordering shares. They bought at $27 and got out at $112.

"We're all human, we're all imperfect, and we all have emotions," said Ed Stubbins, a partner at Fuller & Thaler. "Investors underreact and they overreact -- and that's where we come in."

A Basket Of Behaviors

One of the foremost behavioral ETFs so far is Aptus Behavioral Momentum, which launched in June 2016. It has healthy year-to-date returns of 11.33 percent, although that lags the S&P 500's 14 percent gain. The ETF has drawn $40 million in investor assets so far -- decent for a new product but still only a drop in the bucket of the $4 trillion in ETFs globally.

BEMO focuses on one particular behavioral hiccup: When a stock is on a tear and at a 52-week high, many investors tend to get nervous and sell. BEMO prefers to let its winners ride.

"We think there is a lot of irrationality around that price point," said John Goldsberry, managing director at Aptus Capital Advisors, who identifies Alpha Architect and Cambria Funds as competitors in this relatively new ETF arena.

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