Exchange Traded Funds

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 values over the course of the trading day. Most ETFs track an index, such as the S&P 500 or MSCI EAFE. ETFs may be attractive as investments because of their low costs, tax efficiency, and stock-like features. ETFs are the most popular type of exchange-traded product. ETFs offer public investors an undivided interest in a pool of securities and other assets and thus are similar in many ways to traditional mutual funds, except that shares in an ETF can be bought and sold throughout the day like stocks on a securities exchange through a broker-dealer. Unlike traditional mutual funds, ETFs do not sell or redeem their individual shares at net asset value, or NAV. Instead, financial institutions purchase and redeem ETF shares directly from the ETF, but only in large blocks, varying in size by ETF from 25,000 to 200,000 shares, called "creation units". Purchases and redemptions of the creation units generally are in kind, with the institutional investor contributing or receiving a basket of securities of the same type and proportion held by the ETF, although some ETFs may require or permit a purchasing or redeeming shareholder to substitute cash for some or all of the securities in the basket of assets.

 

The ability to purchase and redeem creation units gives ETFs an arbitrage mechanism intended to minimize the potential deviation between the market price and the net asset value of ETF shares. Existing ETFs have transparent portfolios, so institutional investors will know exactly what portfolio assets they must assemble if they wish to purchase a creation unit, and the exchange disseminates the updated net asset value of the shares throughout the trading day, typically at 15-second intervals.

 

If there is strong investor demand for an ETF, its share price will (temporarily) rise above its net asset value per share, giving arbitrageurs an incentive to purchase additional creation units from the ETF and sell the component ETF shares in the open market. The additional supply of ETF shares reduces the market price per share, generally eliminating the premium over net asset value. A similar process applies when there is weak demand for an ETF and its shares trade at a discount from net asset value.

 

In the United States, most ETFs are structured as open-end management investment companies (the same structure used by mutual funds and money market funds), although a few ETFs, including some of the largest ones, are structured as unit investment trusts. ETFs structured as open-end funds have greater flexibility in constructing a portfolio and are not prohibited from participating in securities lending programs or from using futures and options in achieving their investment objectives.

 

Under existing regulations, a new ETF must receive an order from the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, giving it relief from provisions of the Investment Company Act of 1940 that would not otherwise allow the ETF structure. In 2008, however, the SEC proposed rules that would allow the creation of ETFs without the need for exemptive orders. Under the SEC proposal, an ETF would be defined as a registered open-end management investment company that:

 

  • Issues (or redeems) creation units in exchange for the deposit (or delivery) of basket assets the current value of which is disseminated per share by a national securities exchange at regular intervals during the trading day;

  • Identifies itself as an ETF in any sales literature;

  • Issues shares that are approved for listing and trading on a securities exchange;

  • Discloses each business day on its publicly available web site the prior business day's net asset value and closing market price of the fund's shares, and the premium or discount of the closing market price against the net asset value of the fund's shares as a percentage of net asset value; and

  • Either is an index fund, or discloses each business day on its publicly available web site the identities and weighting of the component securities and other assets held by the fund.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exchange-traded_fund

 

Important Notes: All investments involve the risk of potential investment losses as well as the potential for investment gains. Prior performance is no guarantee of future results and there can be no assurance, and clients should not assume, that future performance will be comparable to past