How ETFs Can Help You Build a Better Investment Portfolio


ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, are a type of stock that tracks an index and can be purchased and sold like any other asset. Due to their simple, dependable, and cost-effective designs, ETFs have acquired $5 trillion in assets under administration in less than three decades, making them a relative newbie compared to mutual funds.  

Since their introduction in 1993, ETFs have had a significant impact on how individuals invest. ETFs popularized the notion of just tracking the market—known as passive investing—rather than depending on someone to choose the proper combination of equities to beat the market. ETFs have developed to provide a variety of strategies, ranging from tactical techniques used by hedge funds to themes such as volatility betting and high-momentum equities.  

Most financial consultants agree that the finest feature about ETFs is their low cost. According to a Morningstar analysis, the average weighted cost ratio for passive funds, the majority of which are ETFs, was 0.13 percent in 2019, compared to 0.66 percent for stock-picking mutual funds. In other words, investors paid $1.30 in fees for every $1,000 invested in a passive fund versus $6.60 in an actively managed mutual fund. ETFs, unlike mutual funds, produce lesser amounts of investment income as a result of their design, lowering investors’ overall tax liability.  

The earliest ETFs focused on stocks, but investment managers have since expanded to include bonds, commodities, or a combination of all three. The SPDR S&P 500 Trust ETF, introduced by State Street in 1993, was the first ETF. It mirrors the S&P 500, and it has become a mainstay in investors’ portfolios across the world, with more than $300 billion in assets, more than any other ETF. More than 2,000 exchange-traded funds (ETFs) exist now, spanning vast swaths and tiny niches of the stock, bond, and commodities markets.  

Their allure stems from their straightforward nature. ETFs look like stocks and operate like them. They operate on exchanges under their ticker symbols, which may be purchased at any moment during a trading period depending on the value of their underlying assets in real-time. But underneath it all lies a complicated system that drives the creation and redemption of shares, which is a critical element of all ETFs.  

Authorized participants, or specialized investment companies in charge of regulating the supply of ETF shares, generate or redeem ETF shares to fulfill demand and fix any pricing discrepancies. Authorized participants purchase the underlying stocks that comprise an ETF’s index and trade them for newer ETF shares as needed. The process of creating ETF shares is called the ETF share-creation process. When shares exchange at a surplus or above an ETF’s net asset value (NAV), which measures the per-share value of the fund’s holdings, authorized participants employ the creation process. Authorized participants would acquire shares of an ETF and exchange them for the underlying assets when demand for the ETF drops or shares trade at a discount to NAV. The process of exchanging ETF shares is known as the ETF share redemption process.  

The share-creation/redemption process allows ETFs to avoid selling assets to pay redemptions, which mutual funds must do because they cannot add or withdraw shares at a whim. Because there are no ill-timed redemptions, you don’t have to worry about the capital gains taxes that certain mutual funds face after long durations of selling, which makes ETFs appealing from a tax standpoint.  

Your investing objectives and aims must be weighed against the price you are ready to pay for results. Due to their capacity to enable fractional trading and the fact that almost all target-date investments are formed as mutual funds, mutual funds tend to offer significant advantages in retirement accounts. They are also common among investors who want to put their money in money managers who can pick and choose whatever stocks and other assets they want.  

ETFs, on the other hand, may be a better choice for investors who prefer a more passive way to invest, whether through a general market index like the S&P 500 or more specific approaches that attempt to profit from long periods of volatility. When deciding between an ETF and a mutual fund, cost and tax factors are likely to play an important role.  

The biggest risk for any ETF, similar to a mutual fund, is that it might be closed down. In that situation, the ETF provider would notify the fund’s intention to shut and the day on which it will be dissolved. Investors that stayed with the fund to the end would get a per-share payment equal to the fund’s ending net asset value.