An exchange traded fund (ETF) is a basket of securities—such as stocks, bonds, currencies or commodities—that can be bought and sold in a single trade on an exchange. They generally track the performance of an index, may charge less fees, and offer targeted exposure to a specific market segment, such as an asset class, geography, sector, or investment theme.
In essence, ETFs are funds that trade like stocks with the diversification benefits of mutual funds. In one trade, they may offer diversified, low-cost, transparent and tax-efficient exposure to companies across the globe.
Understanding the benefits of ETFs is an important step toward determining whether ETFs can be an appropriate choice for your portfolio.
ETFs generally track an index, offering exposure to a specific segment of the market such as:
Because most ETFs are passively managed, they typically have lower management fees and operating expenses compared to mutual funds. Transaction costs are minimized due to the low turnover of most ETFs and the indexes they track. When fees and expenses are low, investors can keep more of their returns.
ETFs provide one of the easiest ways to diversify a portfolio.
They provide access to many companies or investments in one single trade, removing single stock risk—the risk inherent in being exposed to just one company. Offering this exposure in the ETF structure helps to lower the risk that a select number of individual stocks could hurt overall portfolio performance.
ETFs benefit from two sources of liquidity:
Learn more about the ETF Creation and Redemption Process
ETFs are generally more tax efficient than other investment vehicles due to the ability to transfer securities in and out of the portfolio in the most tax-efficient manner, via the in-kind creation/redemption process. And, because ETFs generally track market indexes, turnover is generally low, resulting in fewer capital gains and lower taxes. Additionally, any associated capital gains taxes are paid at the time of final sale, offering greater control on the timing of tax consequences.
ETFs can be bought through an online brokerage account at their current market price, at any time during the trading day. There are no minimum holding periods, and investors can employ a wide range of trading techniques—such as buying on margin, short selling, and placing limit orders—to react to market movements.
Master the Mechanics of ETF Trading
The holdings of most ETFs are fully transparent and available daily. This disclosure means investors know what they own at any moment, allowing them to make more informed investment decisions with greater accuracy.
ETFs have grown exponentially since 1993 when State Street Global Advisors launched the SPDR® S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), the first US-listed ETF. Today, investors use ETFs to precisely meet their individual portfolio needs, from finding income and gaining broad market exposure, to lowering costs and investing in difficult-to-reach markets.
State Street Global Advisors launched the first US-listed ETF: SPDR® S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY)
Total number of global exchange traded funds available. 1
Global assets under management in ETFs and ETPs 1
1 ETFGI, as of 09/30/2019.
Authorized Participant (AP)
A US-registered and self-clearing broker-dealer who meets certain criteria and signs a participant agreement with a particular ETF sponsor or distributor to become an “authorized participant” of the fund. APs are often associated with large and influential investment banks, and are scrutinized for their integrity and operational competence as they are the only parties who transact directly with an ETF.
Creation and Redemption Process
The process whereby an ETF issuer takes in and disburses baskets of assets in exchange for the issuance or removal of new ETF shares.
An order placed with a brokerage to buy or sell a set number of shares at a specified price or better.
The degree to which an asset or security can be bought or sold in the market without affecting the asset’s price. Liquidity is characterized by a high level of trading activity.
The market where shares of an ETF are created or redeemed.
A market where investors purchase or sell securities or assets from or to other investors, rather than from issuing companies themselves. The New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ are secondary markets.
Passively managed funds hold a range of securities that, in the aggregate, approximates the full Index in terms of key risk factors and other characteristics.