Advantages and Disadvantages of ETFs
This is the 2nd installment of our 2 part series on ETFs. Please read the first part here: Investing in ETFs
Advantages of ETFs
1. ETFs tend to be more cost-effective vis-a-vis comparable mutual funds. For instance, while the expense ratio of a passively managed ETF (tracking a benchmark index) would normally be in the range of 0.50%-1.00%; for an index fund, it can be as high as 1.50%.
2. Another important advantage with ETFs is that they provide more flexibility to investors than regular mutual funds. Since they are traded on the stock exchange, they are available to investors any time during the trading hours. So investors can buy and sell units of an ETF on a real time basis, unlike regular mutual funds, which can be transacted only at end-of-day NAV.
3. Since ETFs witness most of the buying/selling on the exchange, the interests of the long-term investor are not compromised. Take a regular equity fund where units are bought and sold at the AMC’s end – when a significant amount of money enters and exits the fund rather quickly, the long-term investor could suffer as a result of the costs (trading costs, registrar costs and opportunity loss, if the fund manager is forced to sell his best stocks) associated with this quick inflow/outflow.
With an ETF, since the trading investor does not approach the AMC at all and only interacts with other investors over the exchange, his quick entry/exit does not compromise the interests of the long-term investor.
4. Given ETFs are traded on the stock exchange, and can be bought/sold on a real time basis; they tend to have low tracking error (deviation of ETF’s performance from that of the underlying index) as compared to index funds.
Disadvantages of ETF
1. Investors need to have a demat and a trading account, with a SEBI registered stockbroker, for investing in ETFs. For investors, who do not trade in stocks, this could be a bit of a deterrent. Also, maintaining a demat account entails paying annual fees (approximately Rs 500), however the same varies across stockbrokers. For investors, who invest in stocks, this will not pinch as the maintenance charge of the demat account will be spread across the stock and ETF investments.
2. While investors have to incur entry/exit loads at the time of making/redeeming investments in mutual funds, for ETFs they have to pay a brokerage (usually around 0.50%) to the stockbroker, along with other applicable charges (STT for instance), every time ETF units are bought or sold. For a trader who frequently trades, this can have a significant impact on the net returns. But for long-term investors, these expenses hold little relevance.
What investors must do
It is evident that ETFs offer a different investment proposition vis-à-vis conventional mutual funds. ETFs may appeal to investors who want to track the performance of a particular benchmark index (such as S&P CNX Nifty or BSE Sensex); similarly, the ETF route can also appeal to investors who are desirous of investing in asset classes such as gold. The allure of ETFs will only grow given the expanding bouquet of offerings.
Investors on their part would do well to thoroughly understand the pros and cons of ETFs; this will help them make informed investment decisions. Also, investors must consult their investment advisors/financial planners to determine the suitability of an ETF in their investment portfolios.