Wednesday, November 30, 2011

There is more to ETFs than you think

The Financial Post has a very good article today on the ciomplexity of ETFs and the way they trade. ETFs are no doubt better than mutual funds in most ways, but they do have certain complexities that not many people know about.

The author attended a session by PowerShares which it hosted  for advisors, covering the shortcomings of traditionalmarket-cap-weighted indexes (and ETFs tracking them) versus enhanced or "fundamental" indexing like that used by ETFs based on RAFI (Research Affiliates Fundamental Index.)

"The most interesting session was a panel involving three market makers and designated brokers. The stage was set in a backgrounder by Cooke on ETF liquidity, titled More than meets the eye. Because they're openended structures, ETFs don't trade precisely like stocks. Cooke argues stocks trade in an "auction" market with a fixed number of shares available. The value of a stock is determined "by the aggregate opinion of the outright value of the company in question." Based on all combined public investor opinions derived from publicly available information, the "correct" value of the stock is its current market price.

ETFs are different: Because of the way they are created and redeemed, they trade in an arbitrage situation. Bid and ask prices aren't arrived at through supply and demand of the ETF units themselves or by ETF unit trading volume. Rather, prices are determined by the value and liquidity of the underlying baskets of securities.

Or as Cooke summarizes, "ETFs do not trade like stocks. They trade like the sum of the stocks that comprise them." Designated brokers and dealers can create and redeem units to meet investor demand. They can also create extra units by assembling a basket of the stocks held in the ETF in the same relative weights, then exchanging the units for ETF units. For ETF redemptions, this is reversed.

One implication is there is a not a fixed number of ETF units in the marketplace, so liquidity of the ETFs is tied to liquidity of underlying holdings. Second, it allows designated brokers to spot arbitrage opportunities if the ETF trades at a discount or premium to net asset value.

Investors need to pay attention to market depth on ETFs and will be better off using limit orders rather than orders "at market." Cooke says market depth offers a more complete picture by revealing where the true liquidity on an ETF can be found. Sometimes market makers will post their best bids and best offers at prices reflecting the cost of hedging their market risk. This can create a "mirage" of liquidity based on small-sized bids and offers. "Market depth helps investors see where market makers post largersize bids and offers a better indication of where most ETF trades can be executed."

The main risk with a limit order is the risk of the whole trade not going through. But this is better than buying or selling at a hefty premium or discount to the ETF's worth. John Hoffman, PowerShares' director of institutional sales, suggested investors "avoid market orders. Always use limit orders when possible. A limit order ultimately protects you on price. A market order puts the priority on speed. A limit order is not protected on speed but on price of execution."
One advantage of ETF liquidity is sellers don't necessarily have to be matched with buyers. Cooke cites a real-life example from September. An institution wanted to buy almost 600,000 units of the PowerShares 1-5 Year Laddered Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index ETF (PSB/TSX), even though the average daily volume was only 10% of that amount. If this involved a single stock or bond, such an outsized order might push the price up, but in this case, the market maker created units by acquiring the underlying basket of liquid corporate bonds. The large trade was executed as a single block with minimal price disruption. "This illustrates how effectively even a large trade can be executed in a relatively illiquid ETF, assuming there is an investable basket of securities."

At the seminar, TD Securities vice-president Alex Perel observed that "fixed-income ETFs are by far the best deal for investors because of institutional pricing."
I came away with the impression there's more to choosing and trading ETFs than investors realize - and I dare say many advisors could say the same as they make the shift to ETFs from mutual funds"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The New Social Media ETF: SOCL

A new dot bomb or will it actually have growth? In this world of social apps, a new social media ETF has been launched by Global X: ticker SOCL.

With a management fee of 0.65%, it holds many U.S. as well as non U.S. companies. 37% exposure to China.

"The Global X Social Media Index ETF (“Fund”) seeks to provide investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance, before fees and expenses, of the Solactive Social Media Index (“Underlying Index”)".

The Underlying Index tracks the equity performance of the largest and most liquid companies involved in the social media industry, including companies that provide social networking, file sharing, and other web-based media applications. As of September 10, 2011, the Underlying Index had 26 constituents, 18 of which are foreign companies.

% of Net Assets Name Identifier Market Price($) Shares Held Market Value($)
  10.83 NETEASE.COM INC ADR 64110W102 45.70 3,384.00 154,648.80
  10.56 SINA CORP US 2579230 77.96 1,934.00 150,774.64
  10.46 DENA CO LTD B05L364 34.67 4,310.00 149,411.84
  9.82 TENCENT HOLDINGS LTD B01CT30 20.04 6,998.00 140,265.71
  8.39 GREE INC. B3FJNX6 35.42 3,384.00 119,859.15
  5.05 GOOGLE INC 38259P508 611.47 118.00 72,153.46
  4.98 GROUPON INC 399473107 24.03 2,962.00 71,176.86
  4.67 MAIL.RU GROUP-GDR REGS W/ 560317208 30.70 2,172.00 66,680.40
  4.61 YANDEX NV-A N97284108 23.51 2,800.00 65,828.00
  4.37 RENREN INC ADR 759892102 4.52 13,812.00 62,430.24
  3.94 PANDORA MEDIA INC 698354107 12.16 4,622.00 56,203.52
  3.52 UNITED ONLINE 911268100 5.27 9,530.00 50,223.10
  3.40 LINKEDIN CORP - A 53578A108 71.56 678.00 48,517.68
  2.41 NUTRI/SYSTEM INC 67069D108 11.42 3,014.00 34,419.88
  2.20 XING AG B1JTY91 74.93 420.00 31,471.14
  2.08 MIXI INC. B1BSCX6 3,718.52 8.00 29,748.12
  2.03 DEMAND MEDIA 24802N109 7.23 4,018.00 29,050.14
  1.96 REDIFF.COM INDIA LTD-ADR 757479100 9.19 3,040.00 27,937.60
  1.89 PCHOME ONLINE INC B05DVL1 6.42 4,200.00 26,972.09
  1.06 SKY-MOBI LTD SP ADR 83084G109 4.21 3,590.00 15,113.90
  1.01 BUONGIORNO SPA 4572691 1.38 10,466.00 14,466.40
  0.89 THE9 LIMITED - ADR 88337K104 4.66 2,718.00 12,665.88
  0.80 PROMETHEAN WORLD PLC B60B6S4 0.89 12,852.00 11,376.58
  0.57 GEEKNET INC 36846Q203 17.21 470.00 8,088.70
  0.47 QUEPASA CORP 74833W206 4.06 1,638.00 6,650.28
  -1.95 CASH CASH 1.86 -14,967.01 -27,904.10

Monday, November 14, 2011

Natural Gas' Huge Contango: Kiss of Death for UNG; UNG Drop to $7.x

This is the current situation with natural gas prices:

There is currently a contango of 4.1% between the the two front month contracts. This is quite large. When this happens, UNg tends to underperformed. There has been contango for quite some time now, and anyone who bought UNG is painfully aware of the consequences.

In the meantime, UNG has now a 7 handle:

Absolutely dreadful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Oil and USO: To the moon and down; how to profit either way

USO is the most popular ETF to track the price of oil. Oil has risen very significantly lately, in what many analysts deem is unjustifiable given the poor economic conditions.

As USO trades very near $38, it is in a perfect price range for straddles, which allow an investor to profit either way the price goes. The following are straddles for both November and December for USO, showing the moves required for the position to be profitable..

These are computed with StraddlesCalc

Options are dangerous and may cause 100% loss. Please do your own due diligence.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Europe's giant snow ball is falling down the hill: profit from a banks' collapse

Greece seems almost forgotten now that it has been replaced by Italy's woes in the news. The European leaders are now publicly discussing splitting the Eurozone into two. These are fascinating times, we can see the snow ball falling up the hill.

Below are straddles on XLF for November, computed with StraddlesCalc tool.

This wonderful tool indictaes the moves required by the underlying ETF to achive profitabiliyt.

If you think 6% or so is too much, these are the results from our previous straddles, from Oct 28:

+37% is not bad for about 10 trading days.

Please do your own due diligence. Options are dangerous and may cause 100% loss.