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What is an ETF?

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What is an ETF?

What is an ETF?

In 1989, the idea for the exchange-traded fund (ETF) was born.

Initially marketed to investors as Index Participation Shares, this innovative new product was meant to be a proxy for the S&P 500 that also traded on an exchange like a stock. After being launched, this early ETF prototype was immediately targeted by lawyers of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) for illegally behaving like a futures contract. A lawsuit ensued, and a federal judge in Chicago ruled that they needed to be withdrawn.

A year later, the case can be made that Canada was the birthplace of the first successful ETF. This time the product was called Toronto 35 Index Participation Units (TIPs 35), and it tracked the TSE-35 Index at the time. TIPs were instantly lauded for providing low-cost exposure to Canadian equities – and shortly after, many more ETFs in Canada and the United States would follow suit, including the SPDR S&P 500 Trust ETF in 1993.

How do ETFs work?

Today’s infographic from StocksToTrade.com highlights the basics around ETFs, including how they work, what type of assets they can track, and the pros and cons associated with investing in them.

In the most basic sense, an ETF is a type of fund that owns assets – like stocks, commodities, or futures – but has its ownership divided into shares that trade on stock exchanges.

In other words, investors can buy and sell ETFs whenever they want during trading hours. Like a stock, each ETF has a ticker symbol and a price that changes in real-time. However, unlike a stock, the number of shares outstanding can change daily based on the share creation and redemption mechanisms.

Pros and Cons

There are many views out there on ETFs, but it is generally accepted that they provide an inexpensive, transparent, and convenient way to get access to many different asset classes. This makes it easy to diversify a portfolio, and it also makes ETFs simple to buy and sell.

For these reasons, the passive management investment industry has taken off, and the ETF industry now has over $4 trillion of assets under management (AUM) globally. By the year 2021, ETFs are expected to surpass the $7 trillion mark for AUM.

Despite this growth and a wide range of benefits, ETFs do have some detractors.

Critics would be quick to point out that some ETFs are very thinly traded, providing wide bid/ask spreads and lower liquidity. Furthermore, there can also be instances where technical issues can cause a performance gap between the ETF and the index it tracks, known as tracking error.

As a final point, it’s worth mentioning that there is some counterparty risk with ETFs – for example, even if you “own” physically-backed gold through the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD), there is a chance that in extreme situations that you may not actually get to see the benefit of that gold. The counterparty risk stems from the possibility of a party failing to deliver on their promises, and is actually quite common to see with other types of assets, as well.

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Investor Education

Why Investors Should Rethink Traditional Income Strategies

Traditional longer-terms bonds are no longer as effective—so which additional income strategies should investors be considering?

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income strategies

Why Investors Should Rethink Traditional Income Strategies

Humans are creatures of habit. We all have daily routines, whether it’s walking the same lunchtime route, watching a familiar TV show, or cooking the same meal over and over again. Once we develop a pattern, it can take a drastic change to convince us to rethink our approach.

One such shake-up to ingrained investment habits is the changing landscape of income investing.

In today’s infographic from New York Life Investments, we explain why traditional long-term bonds may not be as effective as they were in the past, and which additional income strategies investors can consider.

The Status Quo

For years, investors have relied on traditional longer-term bonds as the centerpiece in an income portfolio. These debt instruments usually pay out interest to investors on a predetermined schedule, providing a steady income stream investment. Historically, they have also been subject to less volatility than equities.

The typical bond portfolio is diversified, much like the Bloomberg Barclay’s U.S. Aggregate Index. Here’s how the sectors are broken down in the index:

SectorMarket Value
Treasury39.5%
Government-Related5.8%
Corporate25.0%
Securitized29.7%

Unfortunately, this income strategy has been less effective in recent years. Over the last decade, core bond duration has increased by 1.5 years while yields have decreased by almost 2%. Essentially, interest rate volatility has increased—but investors are less compensated for the risk.

In light of low rates and higher expected market volatility, it’s critical that investors explore other income solutions. Luckily, there are many lesser-known asset classes for investors to consider.

Additional Income Strategies: An Investor’s Choice

When investors decide how to re-allocate, they can keep these objectives in mind:

  1. Preservation of principal (risk level)
  2. Pursuit of capital (growth potential)
  3. Perseverance in markets (long-term objectives)

Which additional income strategies can they explore?

Taxable Municipal Bonds

Issued by state and local governments, the yield of taxable munis has historically been higher than that of other sectors. Taxable munis also have a strong credit rating—over 76% of U.S. municipal bonds outstanding are A+ rated or better.

Insured Municipal Bonds

Investors can get additional downside protection with insured municipal bonds, which are guaranteed to pay interest and principal back by private insurers. They have historically performed similar to munis while capturing less of the “downside”, often providing an attractive risk-adjusted return for income investors.

Short-duration, High-yield Bonds

Bonds with a shorter duration and higher yield can be a lower volatility approach to achieving the same income investing goals.

Yield and Risk in Bonds (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2019):

Bond TypeYieldStandard Deviation (annualized)Yield per Unit of Risk
U.S. Aggregate Bonds2.492.940.85
High Yield Bonds6.055.601.08
Low-duration, High-yield bonds5.003.901.28

Short duration funds have lower interest rate risk, and can offer attractive yield per unit of risk.

Yield-Centric Equities

Equities can also play a role in an income focused portfolio. Investors should look for established companies that are achieving:

  • Growth in free cash flow
  • Stable or growing dividends
  • Share buybacks or debt reduction

Over the last 40+ years, the annual compound return of stocks with growing dividends have outperformed dividend cutters on the S&P 500 by more than 4%.

Preparing for Your Future

Maximizing the benefit from new income opportunities can take time. For this reason, it’s important to consider potential portfolio changes now, so that these strategies can play out in the lead up to retirement years.

It may be tempting to stick with the status quo—both in daily routines and investment strategies—but those who proactively adjust their approach will be able to maximize their potential.

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Investor Education

How Equities Can Reduce Longevity Risk

With life expectancies increasing, will you outlive your savings? Learn how allocating more of your portfolio to equities may reduce longevity risk.

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Will You Outlive Your Savings?

The desire to live longer — and outrun death — is ingrained in the human spirit. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, may have even drank mercury in his quest for immortality.

Over time, advice for living longer has become more practical: eat well, get regular exercise, seek medical advice. However, as life expectancies increase, many individuals will struggle to save enough for their lengthy retirement years.

Today’s infographic comes from New York Life Investments, and it uncovers how holding a stronger equity weighting in your portfolio may help you save enough funds for your lifespan.

Longer Life Expectancies

Around the world, more people are living longer.

YearLife Expectancy at Birth, World
196052.6 years
198062.9 years
200067.7 years
201672.1 years

Despite this, many people underestimate how long they’ll live. Why?

  • They compare to older relatives.
    Approximately 25% of variation in lifespan is a product of ancestry, but it’s not the only factor that matters. Gender, lifestyle, exercise, diet, and even socioeconomic status also have a large impact. Even more importantly, breakthroughs in healthcare and technology have contributed to longer life expectancies over the last century.
  • They refer to life expectancy at birth.
    This is the most commonly quoted statistic. However, life expectancies rise as individuals age. This is because they have survived many potential causes of untimely death — including higher mortality risks often associated with childhood.

Longevity Risk

Amid the longer lifespans and inaccurate predictions, a problem is brewing.

Currently, 35% of U.S. households do not participate in any retirement savings plan. Among those who do, the median household only has $1,100 in its retirement account.

Enter longevity risk: many investors are facing the possibility that they will outlive their retirement savings.

So, what’s the solution? One strategy lies in the composition of an investor’s portfolio.

The Case for a Stronger Equity Weighting

One of the most important decisions an investor will make is their asset allocation.

As a guide, many individuals have referred to the “100-age” rule. For example, a 40-year-old would hold 60% in stocks while an 80-year-old would hold 20% in stocks.

As life expectancies rise and time horizons lengthen, a more aggressive portfolio has become increasingly important. Today, professionals suggest a rule closer to 110-age or 120-age.

There are many reasons why investors should consider holding a strong equity weighting.

  1. Equities Have Strong Long-Term Performance

    Equities deliver much higher returns than other asset classes over time. Not only do they outpace inflation by a wide margin, many also pay dividends that boost performance when reinvested.

  2. Small Yearly Withdrawals Limit Risk

    Upon retirement, an investor usually withdraws only a small percentage of their portfolio each year. This limits the downside risk of equities, even in bear markets.

  3. Earning Potential Can Balance Portfolio Risk

    Some healthy seniors are choosing to work in retirement to stay active. This means they have more earning potential, and are better equipped to recoup any losses their portfolio may experience.

  4. Time Horizons Extend Beyond Lifespan

    Many individuals, particularly affluent investors, want to pass on their wealth to their loved ones upon their death. Given the longer time horizon, the portfolio is better equipped to ride out risk and maximize returns through equities.

Higher Risk, Higher Potential Reward

Holding equities can be an exercise in psychological discipline. An investor must be able to ride out the ups and downs in the stock market.

If they can, there’s a good chance they will be rewarded. By allocating more of their portfolio to equities, investors greatly increase the odds of retiring whenever they want — with funds that will last their entire lifetime.

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