ETFs Fact or Fiction: Are ETFs Riskier Than Mutual Funds?
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Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) by Ken Hawkins Thanks very much for downloading the printable version of this tutorial. As always, we welcome any feedback or suggestions.
Table of Contents 1) Exchange-Traded Funds: Introduction 2) Exchange-Traded Funds: Background 3) Exchange-Traded Funds: Features 4) Exchange-Traded Funds: SPDR S&P 500 ETF 5) Exchange-Traded Funds: Active Vs. Passive Investing 6) Exchange-Traded Funds: Index Funds Vs. ETFs 7) Exchange-Traded Funds: Equity ETFs 8) Exchange-Traded Funds: Fixed-Income and Asset-Allocation ETFs 9) Exchange-Traded Funds: ETF Alternative Investments 10) Exchange-Traded Funds: ETF Investment Strategies 11) Exchange-Traded Funds: Conclusion
Introduction Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) can be a valuable component for any investors portfolio, from the most sophisticated institutional money managers to a novice investor who is just getting started. Some investors use ETFs as the sole focus of their portfolios, and are able to build a well-diversified portfolio with just a few ETFs. Others use ETFs to complement their existing portfolios, and rely on ETFs to implement sophisticated investment strategies. But, as with any other investment vehicle, in order to truly benefit from ETFs, investors have to understand and use them appropriately. Understanding most ETFs is very straightforward. An ETF trades like a stock on a stock exchange and looks like a mutual fund. Its performance tracks an underlying index, which the ETF is designed to replicate. The difference in structure between ETFs and mutual funds explains part of different investing characteristics. The other differences are explained by the type of management
style. Because ETFs are designed to track an index, they are considered passively managed; most mutual funds are considered actively managed. (For more insight, read Mutual Fund Or ETF: Which Is Right For You? and Active Vs. Passive Investing In ETFs.) From an investors perspective, an investment in an index mutual fund and an ETF that tracks the same index would be equivalent investments. For example, the performance of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF and a low-cost index fund based on the S&P 500 would both be very close to the to the S&P 500 index in terms of performance. Although index mutual funds are available to cover most of the major indexes, ETFs cover a broader range of indexes, providing more investing options to the ETF investor than the index mutual fund investor. (For more insight, read ETFs Vs. Index Funds: Quantifying The Differences.) This tutorial provides a basic understanding of what an ETF is and how it might be used by an investor.
Background Compared to mutual funds, ETFs are relatively new. The first U.S. ETFs were created by State Street Global Advisors with the launch of the S&P 500 depositary receipts, also know as SPDRs (spiders). Although the first ETFs tended to track broad market indexes, more recent ETFs have been developed to track sectors, fixed income, global investments, commodities and currencies. According to Morgan Stanley, by the end of 2007, there were 1,171 ETFs trading worldwide, with assets approaching $800 billion. ETFs represent shares of ownership of a unit investment trust (UIT), which holds portfolios of stocks, bonds, currencies or commodities. ETFs are often compared the mutual funds:
Like a mutual fund, an ETF is an investment structure that pools the assets of its investors and uses professional managers to invest the money to meet clearly identified objectives, such as current income or capital appreciation. And, like a mutual fund, it also has a prospectus. An ETF delivers a prospectus to the retail purchaser or provides investors a document known as a product description, which summarizes key information about the ETF.
A mutual fund investor purchases or redeems directly from the fund, at the mutual funds net asset value (NAV), which is calculated at the end of each trading day. An investor who buys an ETF purchases the shares on This tutorial can be found at: (Page 2 of 21) Copyright © 2010, Investopedia.com – All rights reserved.
a stock exchange in a process identical to the purchase or sale of any other listed stock. Although most mutual funds are actively managed a significant number of index funds are available. Although most ETFs are passively managed – designed to track specific indexes – a few actively managed ETFs have been introduced.
The creation and redemption process for ETF shares is almost the exact opposite to that of mutual fund shares. When investing in mutual funds, investors send cash to the fund company, which then uses that cash to purchase securities and issue additional shares of the fund. When investors want to redeem their mutual fund shares, the shares are returned to the mutual fund company in exchange for cash. The creation of an ETF, however, does not involve cash. (For insight, see An Inside Look At ETF Construction.)
Creation ETFs are security certificates that state the legal right of ownership over a portion of a basket of individual stock certificates. Creating an ETF in the U.S. first requires a fund manager to submit a detailed plan to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The plan describes a set of procedures and the composition of the ETF. Typically, only the largest money management firms, with experience in indexing, can create and manage ETFs. These firms are in touch with major investors, pension funds and money managers throughout the world, which have the pool of stocks required for ETF creation. The firms also create demand by lining up customers, either institutional or retail, to buy a newly introduced ETF. The creation of an ETF officially begins with an authorized participant, also referred to as a market maker or specialist. These are middlemen who assemble the appropriate basket of stocks, typically enough to purchase 10,000 to 50,000 shares of the ETF. The basket of shares is sent to a designated custodial bank, which in turn forwards the ETF shares to the market maker for safekeeping. The minimum basket size is called a creation unit. Redemption To redeem the shares, an authorized participant buys a large block of ETFs, forwards them to the custodial bank and receives an equivalent basket of individual stocks. These stocks can then be sold on a stock exchange although they are usually returned to the institution that loaned the shares. In theory, an investor can dispose of an ETF in two ways:
Redeem the ETF, by submitting the shares to the ETF fund in exchange for the underlying shares This tutorial can be found at: (Page 3 of 21) Copyright © 2010, Investopedia.com – All rights reserved.
In practice, the individual investors will do the latter. Because of the limitations placed on the redemption of the ETFs shares, they can not be called mutual funds. Arbitrage A important characteristic of an ETF is the opportunity for arbitrage. When the ETF price starts to deviate from the underlying net asset value (NAV) of the component stocks, participants can step in and take profit on the differences. If the ETF shares are trading at a discount to underlying securities (a price lower than the NAV), then arbitrageurs buy ETF shares on the open market. The arbitrageurs will then form creation units, redeem the creation units to the custodial bank, receive the underlying securities, and sell them for a profit. If the ETF shares are trading at a premium to the underlying securities (a price higher than the NAV), arbitrageurs will buy the underlying securities on the open market, redeem them for creation units, and then sell the ETF shares for a profit. The actions of the arbitrageurs result in ETF prices that are kept very close to the NAV of the underlying securities. (For more insight, read Arbitrage Squeezes Profit From Market Inefficiency.) Popular Families of ETFs SPDRs Standard & Poors Depositary Receipts (SPDRs) are managed by State Street Global Advisors (SSgA). The most popular SPDR is the SPDR S&P 500 EDF (SPY), but State Street Global Advisors also has a series of ETFs that track the major S&P 500 sectors. They are called Select Sector SPDRs. iShares The iShares family of ETFs is branded and managed by Barclays Global Investors. According to Morgan Stanley, Barclays is the largest providers of ETFs in the world, providing a diverse offering of ETFs covering broad-based U.S., international, industry sectors, fixed income and commodities. VIPERs VIPERS ETFs are issued by Vanguard, better known for its diverse selection of index mutual funds. Vanguard Index Participation Receipts (VIPERs) offer a number of different ETFs, ranging form broad-based to industry sector as well as international and bond ETFs. (To learn more read, What is the difference between iShares, VIPERS and spiders?) PowerShares This tutorial can be found at: (Page 4 of 21) Copyright © 2010, Investopedia.com – All rights reserved.
The PowerShares family of exchange traded funds is a relatively new provider of ETFs that offers equity ETFs representing broad market, industry sectors, and international indexes as well as fixed income, currency and commodities. The family, which offers the very popular QQQQ, or Nasdaq 100 ETF, also has a number of quantitatively based ETFs developed by using dynamic indexing, which constantly searches for the best performing stocks within each index.
Features The vast majority of ETFs are designed to track an index, so their performance is close to that of an index mutual fund, but they are not exact duplicates. A tracking error, or the difference between the returns of a fund and the returns of the index, can arise due to differences in composition, management fees, expenses, and handling of dividends. Lets take a look at some of these factors. Buying and Selling ETFs Can Be Good for the Small Investor ETFs enjoy continuous pricing; they can be bought and sold on a stock exchange throughout the trading day. Because ETFs trade like stocks, you can place orders just like with individual stocks – such as limit orders, good-until-canceled orders, stop loss orders etc. They can also be sold short. Traditional mutual funds are bought and redeemed based on their net asset values (NAV) at the end of the day. ETFs are bought and sold at the market prices on the exchanges, which resemble the underlying NAV but are independent of it. However, arbitrageurs will ensure that ETF prices are kept very close to the NAV of the underlying securities. Although an investor can buy as few as one share of an ETF, most buy in board lots. Anything bought in less than a board lot will increase the cost to the investor. Anyone can buy any ETF no matter where in the world it trades. This provides a benefit over mutual funds, which generally can only be bought in the country in which they are registered. Treatment of Dividends An ETF typically pays out dividends received from the underlying stocks on a quarterly basis. However, the underlying stocks pay dividends throughout the quarter. Therefore, these funds can hold cash for various time periods throughout the quarter, even though the underlying benchmark index is not composed of cash. With dividend-paying ETFs, the cash ends up in your brokerage account instead, just like the dividend on a regular stock. If you want to reinvest that cash, you have to make another purchase. Tax Efficiency Because index ETFs are passively managed portfolios, they tend to offer greater tax benefits than regular mutual funds. They generate fewer capital gains due to This tutorial can be found at: (Page 5 of 21) Copyright © 2010, Investopedia.com – All rights reserved.
low turnover of the securities, and realize fewer capital gains than actively managed funds. An index ETFs only sells securities to reflect changes in its underlying index. Traditional mutual funds accumulate these unrealized capital gains liabilities as the portfolios stocks increase in value. When the fund sells those stocks, it distributes the capital gains to its investors in proportion to their ownership. This selling results in greater taxes for mutual fund owners. (For related reading, see How To Use ETFs In Your Portfolio.) Transparency As mentioned, ETFs are designed to replicate the performance of their underlying index or commodity. Investors always know exactly what they are buying and can see exactly what constitutes the ETF. The fees are also clearly laid out. Because mutual funds only have to report their holdings twice a year, when you buy into a mutual fund, what youre getting may not be as clear. Fees and Commissions One of the main features of ETFs are their low annual fees, especially when compared to traditional mutual funds. The passive nature of index investing, reduced marketing, and distribution and accounting expenses all contribute to the lower fees. However, individual investors must pay a brokerage commission to purchase and sell ETF shares; for those investors who trade frequently, this can significantly increase the cost of investing in ETFs. That said, with the advent of low-cost brokerage fees, small or frequent purchases of ETFs are becoming more cost efficient. (For more insight, read 3 Steps To A Profitable ETF Portfolio.)
Options A number of ETFs have options that can be traded. They can be used to create different investment strategies in conjunction with the underlying ETF. This allows ETF investors to make use of leverage in their portfolios. (For more insight, read Dissecting Leveraged ETF Returns.)
SPDR S&P 500 ETF The first, and most popular, ETF in the U.S. is the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (AMEX:SPY). It tracks one of the most popular indexes in the world, the S&P 500 Index. It is managed by State Street Global Advisors, one of the largest mangers of ETFs in the world. (For more insight, read S&P 500 ETFs: Market Weight Vs. Equal Weight.) SPDR S&P 500 ETF Objective The objective of the SPY ETF is to duplicate as closely as possible, before expenses, the total return of the S&P 500 Index. As of 2008 almost, the S&P 500 This tutorial can be found at: (Page 6 of 21) Copyright © 2010, Investopedia.com – All rights reserved.
Index had 525 million shares outstanding, with total net assets of just over $73 billion. SPY trades on the American Stock Exchange (AMEX) and is one of the most actively traded stocks, regularly trading more than 100 million shares per day and sometimes over 400 million shares per day. Characteristic of S&P 500 Index The S&P 500 is a market capitalization index of 500 of the largest companies in the U.S. According to Standard and Poors, it represents about 75% of the market capitalization of the total U.S. equity market. It is considered to be a large cap index. The index is composed of 10 main industrial sectors as determine by the Global Industrial Classification Standard (GICS). Performance of SPDR S&P 500 ETF
Year S&P 500 Index SPY ETF 1 Year -4.68% -4.67% 3 Year 8.23% 8.16% 5 Year 10.62% 10.56% 10 Year 3.89% 3.78% Annualized returns as of S&P 500 Index and SPY ETF as of April 30, 2008
The SPY ETF tracks the performance of the S&P 500 index very closely; most of the different between them is accounted for by SPYs expense ratio. For many investors, the SPY represents a good core equity holding, in part because of its low cost (expense ratio). For example, at a closing price of $139.27 on May 21, 2008, 400 shares would have cost an investor $55,708.00 before commission. The expense ratio is .0945% which translates into an annual cost to the investor of about $53, based on the current amount invested. (For more on this, see 10 Reasons To Make ETFs The Core Of Your Portfolio.) An investor could buy the SPY as a core portfolio holding to provide exposure to the U.S. stock market. Alternatively, an investor could combine it with other ETFs such as a small cap ETF, value-based ETF, or sector ETF to further customize the exposure to U.S. stocks. An active trader could also use this ETF to actively trade because it is exceptionally liquid, making it easy to buy and sell with little cost.
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Active Vs. Passive Investing Although indexing (a passive investment strategy) has been used by institutional investors for many years, it is still relatively new for the typical individual investor. Because ETFs use predominately passive strategies, the first question any investor should consider is whether to take an active or passive approach to investing. (For more insight, see Active Vs. Passive Investing In ETFs.) Rationale for Active Investing The predominant investment strategy today is active investing, which attempts to outperform the market. The goal of active management is to beat a particular benchmark. The majority of mutual funds are actively managed. Analyzing market trends, the economy and the company-specific factor, active managers are constantly searching out information and gathering insights to help them make their investment decisions. Many have their own complex security selection and trading systems to implement their investment ideas, all with the ultimate goal of outperforming the market. There are almost as many methods of active management as there are active managers. These methods can include fundamental analysis, technical analysis, quantitative analysis and macroeconomic analysis. Active managers believe that because the markets are inefficient, anomalies and irregularities in the capital markets can be exploited by those with skill and insight. Prices react to information slowly enough to allow skillful investors to systematically outperform the market. Rationale for Passive Investing Passive management, or indexing, is an investment management approach based on investing in exactly the same securities, and in the same proportions, as an index such Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500. It is called passive because portfolio managers dont make decisions about which securities to buy and sell; the managers merely follow the same methodology of constructing a portfolio as the index uses. The managers goal is to replicate the performance of an index as closely as possible. Passive managers invest in broad sectors of the market, called asset classes or indexes, and are willing to accept the average returns various asset classes produce. (For related reading, see Is Your Portfolio Beating Its Benchmark?) Passive investors believe in the efficient market hypothesis (EMH), which states that market prices are always fair and quickly reflective of information. EMH followers believe that consistently outperforming the market for the professional and small investor alike is difficult. Therefore, passive managers do not try to beat the market, but only to match its performance. (For background reading, check out What Is Market Efficiency?) This tutorial can be found at: (Page 8 of 21) Copyright © 2010, Investopedia.com – All rights reserved.
Passive or Active Management Which is the Best Approach? A debate about the two approaches has been ongoing since the early 1970s. Supporting the passive management argument are the researchers from the nations universities and privately funded research centers. Wall Street firms, banks, insurance companies and other companies that have a vested interest in the profits from active management support the other side of the argument. Each side can make a strong logical case to support their arguments, although in many cases, the support is due to different belief systems, much like opposing political parties. However, each approach has advantages and disadvantages that should be considered. Active Management – Advantage/Disadvantage The main advantage of active management is the possibility that the managers will be able to outperform the index due to their superior skills. They can make informed investment decisions based on their experiences, insights, knowledge and ability to identify opportunities that can translate into superior performance. If they believe the market might turn downward, active managers can take defensive measures by hedging or increasing their cash positions to reduce the impact on their portfolios. A disadvantage is that active investing is more costly, resulting in higher fees and operating expenses. Having higher fees is a significant impediment to preventing a manager from consistently outperforming over the long term. Active managers, in an attempt to beat the market, tend to have a more concentrated portfolio with fewer securities. However, when active managers are wrong, they may very significantly under-perform the market. A managers style could be out of favor with the market for a period of time, which could result in lagging performance. Passive Management – Advantage/Disadvantage The main advantage of passive investing is that it closely matches the performance of the index. Passive investing requires little decision-making by the manager. The manager tries to duplicate the chosen index, tracking it as efficiently as possible. This results in lower operating costs that are passed on to the investor in the form of lower fees. A passively managed investment will never outperform the underlying index it is meant to track. The performance is dictated by the underlying index and the investor must be satisfied with the performance of that index. Managers are unable to take action if they believe the overall market will decline or they believe individual securities should be sold.
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Index Funds Vs. ETFs In much of the previous discussion comparing mutual funds to ETFs, the merits of actively managed mutual funds are compared to the passively managed ETFs. In some ways, it is like comparing apple to oranges. They have entirely different characteristics. If a passive approach is desired, an investor should then consider how best to implement it – by using index funds or exchange traded funds. Index Funds and ETFs Index funds have been available in the U.S. since the 1970s; ETFs were first traded in the U.S. in 1993. Although the number of index funds and ETFs are close, ETFs cover about five times as many indexes. Some of the newer ETFs track some indexes that are more appropriate for an ETF structure than for an index fund. Consequently, an investor might only be able to track an index by using ETFs because there are no index funds available that can track that same index Costs ETFs and index funds each offer advantages and disadvantages for managing the costs of the underlying assets. In some cases, the difference in fees might favor one over the other. Investors can buy no-load index funds without incurring any transaction costs. Investors buying ETFs will have to pay brokerage commissions. Tax Efficiency In nearly all cases, the structure of an ETF results in lower taxes versus the equivalent index fund. This is because the way in which ETFs are created and redeemed eliminates the need to sell securities. With index funds, securities are bought and sold, although with lower turnover than a typical actively managed fund. These transaction will trigger capital gains that have to be distributed to the unit holders. (To learn more, read An Inside Look At ETF Construction.) Dividends The nature of ETFs requires them to accumulate dividends or interest received from the underlying securities until it is distributed to shareholders at the end of each quarter. Index funds invest their dividends or interest income immediately. (For more insight, read Advantages Of Exchange-Traded Funds.) Rebalancing An investor with a portfolio of index funds or ETFs occasionally rebalances the portfolio, selling some of the positions and purchasing others. A portfolio containing ETFs incurs commissions by buying and selling the ETFs. Because the investor typically trades in board lots, getting the exact weightings of each ETF desired is practically impossible. This is especially true for small portfolios. With index funds, an investor can achieve exact asset allocation weightings This tutorial can be found at: (Page 10 of 21) Copyright © 2010, Investopedia.com – All rights reserved.
because the investor can purchase fractional units. No-load funds have no transaction costs. (For more on this topic, read Rebalance Your Portfolio To Stay On Track.) Dollar-Cost Averaging The technique of using ETFs for dollar-cost averaging – spending a fixed dollar amount at regular intervals on a portfolio – is generally impractical. The commission costs and the extra cost involved in buying odd-lot shares makes this strategy very expensive to implement. Mutual funds are a more suitable investment vehicle for dollar-cost averaging. Liquidity A lack of liquidity on some ETFs, resulting in an increase in the bid-ask spread, adds to the cost of trading ETFs. Also, the less popular ETFs are not likely to ha