Confused by the Trump trade policies? You’re not alone.

An ETF that’s designed to own stocks affected by Republican policies sees more risk than opportunity in the president’s tariff showdown with China and is taking cover — just like most of the rest of the market.

“We’re really just trying to move away from the more trade-exposed names,” said Ben Phillips, chief investment officer of EventShares, which manages the Republican Policies Fund, ticker GOP. “It’s tough to play it directly.”

Trading on trade is notoriously difficult. Do you ditch your multinationals and hunker down in utilities? Or do you wait to see whether the U.S., China or both scale back their measures before the penalties take effect? Both dilemmas discourage long-term investors from any rash buying or selling, which explains why Phillips isn’t planning any immediate changes to the portfolio to address the trade dispute after selling United States Steel Corp.two weeks ago.

Investors in general have been deeply confused about how to play the ongoing drama. S&P 500 Index futures were down 2 percent before the session started Wednesday, but the market rallied back with the index essentially unchanged in midday trading.

GOP is favoring small and mid-cap U.S. companies that typically have less international exposure than larger corporations, loading up on defense stocks, and mulling bets against technology exchange-traded funds and other more exposed sectors, Phillips said. The ETF began positioning for the latest trade tensions in December.

Unlike many free-trade Republicans who are still coming to grips with the administration’s protectionist stances, GOP’s a child of the new administration, starting less than six months ago. Its five investment theses mirror Trump’s agenda, from defense and border protection to deregulation, infrastructure, energy independence and tax reform. But it’s still very small, with just $1 million in assets and minimal trading volume.

The fund has returned 7.2 percent since inception, compared with a 3.2 percent gain in the S&P 500 and 5.5 percent rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the same time frame. It has, however, struggled to break even this year with the major equity gauges underwater.

“Tariffs come into consideration with every investment you make,” Phillips said. “We’re looking at moving slowly into a little bit more of a defensive posture. We have done year to date, but we’re still going in that direction.”


 

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