Pros and cons of Exchange Traded Funds

If you’re thinking about investing in an exchange traded fund (ETF), it’s worthwhile knowing both the benefits and risks of doing so.  Like any financial product, it’s your hard-earned money on the line, so it can pay to know what you’re buying. 

Possible benefits of ETFs

Cost-effectiveness

One of the major benefits of an ETF is its cost effectiveness. The fund may invest in upwards of fifty different listed stocks, but you only pay one brokerage fee. An ETF may also have lower management fees than an actively managed fund.

Diversification

The second potential benefit is the diversification ETFs offer, both within a single asset type and in the range of funds available. As mentioned, an ETF typically invests in many stocks; a product which tracks the S&P/ASX 200 for example, may spread your money across the 200 companies which form the index. This potentially gives you considerable diversification from a single investment. And with the variety of ETFs on offer, you can either narrow your investment to one specific sector or spread your investment broadly, from international shares to bonds to commodities.

Convenience & transparency

Exchange traded funds also provide all the benefits of stocks. As an investor, you have access to all the features that are available to stock investors, including the option to short or use limit and stop orders, not to mention being able to buy and sell as you wish while the exchange is open. With ETFs featuring on an exchange, it also mean that investors can always see the value of their investment.

Considering online share trading? The table below displays a snapshot of online share trading platforms on Canstar’s database, sorted by star rating (highest to lowest) and with links to providers’ websites. Please note the Star Ratings are based on the casual investor profile (average of 2 trades per month). Always ensure you read the PDS before selecting a online share trading provider. 

Possible disadvantages of ETFs

As with any financial product, there are risks associated with exchange traded funds.

It will never exactly match the index

The management fees applicable to ETFs mean that your return on investment will never exactly match the index it tracks. The buy and sell price of your shares in the fund can also vary from the net asset value of the underlying index, reducing your return.

Volatility

Despite the diversification an exchange traded fund offers, this does not make your investment immune to volatility in the market, and you can still suffer losses in a bear market. This risk can increase in line with the specialisation of the ETF – a fund which focuses on a small niche market is likely to be more volatile than a larger, broader one. For example, a fund tracking the mining sector is likely to be more volatile than one that follows the ASX 200.

Currency risk

Finally, if your ETF of choice invests overseas, fluctuations in the Australian dollar can impact your returns. Funds that offer exposure to emerging markets may also be more volatile. You may even be pinged by foreign taxes if the fund you invest in is located outside Australia. For more information on the risks and benefits of investing overseas, check out this article.

It is important to remember that this is only a brief overview of the benefits and risks of exchange traded funds.  As with any financial decision, it is always best to do your research, consider your own personal circumstances and risk tolerance.

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