Friday, May 13, 2016

Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF)

An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is an investment fund traded on stock exchanges, much like stocks. An ETF holds assets such as stocks, commodities, or bonds, and trades close to its net asset value over the course of the trading day. Most ETFs track an index, such as a stock index or bond index. ETFs may be attractive as investments because of their low costs, tax efficiency, and stock-like features.  By 2013, ETFs were the most popular type of exchange-traded product.

Only authorized participants, large broker-dealers who have entered into agreements with the ETF's distributor, actually buy or sell shares of an ETF directly from or to the ETF, and then only in creation units, which are large blocks of tens of thousands of ETF shares, usually exchanged in-kind with baskets of the underlying securities. Authorized participants may wish to invest in the ETF shares for the long-term, but they usually act as market makers on the open market, using their ability to exchange creation units with their underlying securities to provide liquidity of the ETF shares and help ensure that their intraday market price approximates the net asset value of the underlying assets. Other investors, such as individuals using a retail broker, trade ETF shares on this secondary market.

An ETF combines the valuation feature of a mutual fund or unit investment trust, which can be bought or sold at the end of each trading day for its net asset value, with the tradability feature of a closed-end fund, which trades throughout the trading day at prices that may be more or less than its net asset value. Closed-end funds are not considered to be ETFs, even though they are funds and are traded on an exchange. ETFs have been available in the US since 1993 and in Europe since 1999. ETFs traditionally have been index funds, but in 2008 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began to authorize the creation of actively managed ETFs.

ETFs offer both tax efficiency and lower transaction costs. More than two trillion dollars have been invested in ETFs since they were first introduced in the United States in 1993. By the end of 2015, ETFs offered "1,800 different products, covering almost every conceivable market sector, niche and trading strategy".

Leveraged ETFs

Leveraged exchange-traded funds (LETFs), or simply leveraged ETFs, are a special type of ETF that attempt to achieve returns that are more sensitive to market movements than non-leveraged ETFs. Leveraged index ETFs are often marketed as bull or bear funds. A leveraged bull ETF fund might for example attempt to achieve daily returns that are 2x or 3x more pronounced than the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500. A leveraged inverse (bear) ETF fund on the other hand may attempt to achieve returns that are -2x or -3x the daily index return, meaning that it will gain double or triple the loss of the market. Leveraged ETFs require the use of financial engineering techniques, including the use of equity swaps, derivatives and rebalancing, and re-indexing to achieve the desired return. The most common way to construct leveraged ETFs is by trading futures contracts.

The rebalancing and re-indexing of leveraged ETFs may have considerable costs when markets are volatile. The rebalancing problem is that the fund manager incurs trading losses because he needs to buy when the index goes up and sell when the index goes down in order to maintain a fixed leverage ratio. A 2.5% daily change in the index will for example reduce value of a -2x bear fund by about 0.18% per day, which means that about a third of the fund may be wasted in trading losses within a year (1-(1-0.18%)252=36.5%). Investors may however circumvent this problem by buying or writing futures directly, accepting a varying leverage ratio. A more reasonable estimate of daily market changes is 0.5%, which leads to a 2.6% yearly loss of principal in a 3x leveraged fund.

The re-indexing problem of leveraged ETFs stems from the arithmetic effect of volatility of the underlying index. Take, for example, an index that begins at 100 and a 2X fund based on that index that also starts at 100. In a first trading period (for example, a day), the index rises 10% to 110. The 2X fund will then rise 20% to 120. The index then drops back to 100 (a drop of 9.09%), so that it is now even. The drop in the 2X fund will be 18.18% (2*9.09). But 18.18% of 120 is 21.82. This puts the value of the 2X fund at 98.18. Even though the index is unchanged after two trading periods, an investor in the 2X fund would have lost 1.82%. This decline in value can be even greater for inverse funds (leveraged funds with negative multipliers such as -1, -2, or -3). It always occurs when the change in value of the underlying index changes direction. And the decay in value increases with volatility of the underlying index.

The effect of leverage is also reflected in the pricing of options written on leveraged ETFs. In particular, the terminal payoff of a leveraged ETF European/American put or call depends on the realized variance (hence the path) of the underlying index. The impact of leverage ratio can also be observed from the implied volatility surfaces of leveraged ETF options. For instance, the implied volatility curves of inverse leveraged ETFs (with negative multipliers such as -1, -2, or -3) are commonly observed to be increasing in strike, which is characteristically different from the implied volatility smiles or skews seen for index options or non-leveraged ETF options.

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