Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What are ETFs and why is it beneficial to buy them?

Personal Investing - By Ooi Kok Hwa

LATELY, the number of ETFs that get listed on Bursa Malaysia has been increasing.

At present, we have a total of five ETFs listed in Malaysia. Unfortunately, we have noticed that not many investors are aware of these instruments and there is also a lack of understanding on the true value of these ETFs.

ETF stands for exchange-traded fund. Buying into ETFs is almost similar to buying normal mutual funds. The key differences are that investors can buy or sell ETFs in a stock exchange or go through an authorised participant whereas investors can only buy and sell mutual funds through unit trust companies or other financial institutions.

ETF originated in United States. During 1960s and 1970s, some fund managers in the US discovered that it was quite difficult to beat the stock market index. They discovered that it was better to buy stocks that mirrored the index composition as many fund managers found that they tend to underperform the index.

As a result, the ETF industry has been growing in the US from two ETFs in 1995 to more than 900 ETFs listed in the US now. At present, there are many types of ETFs available in the US, for example ETFs on stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies and countries. For stocks, ETFs can be further divided into different types of market capitalisation (big cap vs small cap), equity styles (growth investing vs value investing) as well as different types of sector funds (like ETF on stocks in technology, health care or financial institution sectors).

One of the key advantages of buying into ETFs is that it is cheaper to buy ETFs as compared to normal mutual funds. Investors need to pay about a 5.5% sale charge (also known as front-end load) for normal mutual funds whereas they only need to pay a normal brokearge fee of 0.7% (inclusive of all other charges) for ETFs.

Comparing similar type of funds, the annual management fee for ETFs is generally lower than that of mutual funds.

Normally, ETF will charge about 0.65% per annum (0.6% for the annual management fee and 0.05% for the index license fee).

However, normal mutual funds will charge about 1.5% annual management fee. Assuming an investor intends to buy an index fund and intends to hold the fund for a one-year period, he or she will incur about 1.35% (0.7% - total transaction fee and 0.65% - annual management fee and index license fee).

However, the investor will incur about 7% (5.5% for sale charges and 1.5% for annual management fee) if he buys into the normal mutual funds. Given that ETFs are using the “in-kind” creation and redemption of shares, they eliminate any price discrepancy to net asset value (NAV) due to the supply and demand pressure.

As compared with close-end funds where investors may buy at the premium or discount to its NAV, the price that we pay for ETFs will be closed to its NAV like the normal mutual funds. As an added advantage over mutual funds, ETFs are generally more liquid than normal mutual funds as we can buy and sell them through secondary markets.

Please refer the chart for the mechanism of creating an ETF. The reverse of all of the arrows will be for the redemption of an ETF.

In addition, ETFs provide investors the benefits of portfolio diversification, same as normal mutual funds. Given that they will try to replicate the benchmark indices, their performances will be very close to the indices.

In Malaysia, sometimes we notice that some mutual funds may underperform their benchmark indices.

In short, we believe that there will be more ETFs getting listed on the stock market.

It will be to investors’ benefit to understandhow they can add ETFs onto their investment portfolios as a cost effective investment alternative.

Ooi Kok Hwa is an investment adviser and managing partner of MRR Consulting


No comments: