Mutual funds are still king of the investment world, but investor interest in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) has grown quickly over the last decade.
At the end of 2017, more than $3.4 trillion in assets were invested among over 1,800 ETFs. This is equivalent to about 18% of the assets invested in mutual funds. In 2007, ETF assets were equivalent to only about 5% of mutual fund assets.1
Why the increased interest? ETFs have some attractive features that set them apart from mutual funds. But there are also cost and risk factors to consider.
Like a mutual fund, an ETF is a portfolio of securities assembled by an investment company. Mutual funds are typically purchased from and sold back to the investment company and priced at the end of the trading day, with the price determined by the net asset value (NAV) of the underlying securities. By contrast, ETFs can be traded throughout the day on stock exchanges, like individual stocks, and the price may be higher or lower than the NAV because of supply and demand.
In relatively calm markets, ETF prices and net asset values are generally close. However, when financial markets become more volatile, ETFs may quickly reflect changes in market sentiment, while net asset values — adjusted once a day — may take longer to react, resulting in ETFs trading at a premium or discount.
Most ETFs are passively managed and track an index of securities. Investors can choose from a variety of indexes, ranging from broad-based stock or bond indexes to very specific market sectors. A growing number of actively managed ETFs assemble a non-indexed mix of investments that should reflect the fund’s objectives. Because ETFs are available across a broad range of indexes and investment objectives, they can help provide a level of diversification.
Expenses and Risks
ETFs typically have lower expense ratios than mutual funds. However, you must pay a brokerage commission when you buy or sell ETFs, so your overall costs may be higher, especially if you trade frequently. The trading flexibility of ETFs is part of their appeal, but it could lead some investors to trade more frequently than might be appropriate for their situations. Also, whereas mutual fund assets can typically be exchanged within a fund family at the end of the trading day, moving assets between ETFs requires selling and buying assets separately.
Diversification is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss. The principal value of ETFs and mutual funds fluctuates with market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.
Exchange-traded funds and mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.