What I learned at the IndexUniverse Inside ETFs Conference
I just got back from one of the larger and better ETF conferences
inside ETFs, sponsored by the IndexUniverse. Clearly being in sunny Florida for
a couple of days, getting away from the snow in New York has its attractions.
Just seeing bright sun and breathing fresh ocean air does lift oneĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s spirits
and clears oneĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s mind. But letĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s not forget the conference itself.
There were over a thousand participants and I met quite a few
people, Individual Investors, Registered Investment Advisors, Family Offices,
Wealth Managers and Service Providers. This is a good spot to learn from the
experts, as well as to hear the latest news and gossip. I can describe my
experience in four distinct thematic categories: The New, The Old, The Unspoken
and The Speculation.
LetĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s start with The New. The New part is that trading ETFs
and knowledge how to execute trade well is actually more important than before.
Historically most RIAs and Wealth Managers have been using mutual funds in
building client portfolios. They are comfortable with mutual funds and
typically can discern the good ones from the bad ones. Trading has never been a
concern. You do your analysis, you pick a set of mutual funds that fit your
clientĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s criteria and you simply put on the trade with Fidelity, TD Ameritrade,
Vanguard, Schwab, or wherever you custody your accounts. The trade is done at
the close, you donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t know the price, but you know the trade will take place and
you are done for the day. Not so with the ETFs.
Clearly the benefits of ETFs over mutual funds are louder
and more pronounced than ever before and many investors are only happy to take
advantage of the lower management costs, liquidity, transparency and tax
efficiencies of the ETFs. But trading is becoming important. Most of us when
they see an order form, we input at the ticker, quantity and for the type of
order we simply choose the simplest Market Order. We donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t look at the bid ask
spread, we donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t pay too much attention to volume we typically donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t have Level
II quotes. What this actually means is that we can get burned and our order might
potentially be executed at the worst possible price.
I learned several trading suggestions that I believe are
important. First of all, unless you are trading SPY or DIA or QQQ or Sector
SPDRs or similar high volume, highly liquid ETFs, you never, ever want to do a
Market Order. The suggestion is to always do a Limit Order with the Limit Price
be somewhere around several cents below or above the Ask Price. If you do so
you will able to execute most of your trades within the price that you are
comfortable with. The second thing is that you never want to place an order
right when the market opens or right before market closes. These can be highly
volatile times, not representative of the ETFs true value and these trading
times are better reserved for trades, not investors. The third point on trading
is that if you actually do look at the daily volumes, relative to average daily
volumes, these might not truly represent the liquidity of your ETF. If you have
an opportunity to speak with the broker directly, but execute on the platform
to lower your costs, you should always speak with the broker first, before the
trade, to get the an understanding of most recent trading history during the
times you want to place the trade for your particular ETF.
The Old is, what seems like, a perpetually asked
question, will the Actively Managed ETFs take off, and if yes, then when. As
quick reminder, the actively managed ETFs actually have portfolio managers
behind the strategy and they donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t typically follow an index, like S&P 500
or the like. This portfolio manager is actually a live human being who is
responsible for the strategy and who is doing the research and analysis, as
opposed to a computer calculating weighting decisions. Ă‚Â I frankly had enough, of people asking me this
question because we are well beyond that. The investors piled more money in
ETFs than mutual funds last year, so that already should answer the question.
Granted these inflows were mostly into index ETFs, but this surge is making
investors seek the same benefits from ETFs in the actively managed strategies
in the ETF wrapper.Ă‚Â Bottom line is that the
investors I spoke with, have tasted the flavor and they are fully aware of the
benefits of ETFs vs. mutual funds, they are now actively and aggressively
seeking to replace mutual funds with ETFs.
The Unspoken question is similar to The Old one above,
but more generic. Will the ETFs overtake mutual funds. Again, it is not if, but
when. I am not saying that the mutual funds will go away anytime soon, but the
volume of ETFs, both passive and active is growing at a tremendous pace, while
the volume of mutual funds is not. It not just supply vs. demand issue, where
as I mentioned above, investors are asking and demanding for alternatives
investment vehicles to replace the mutual funds. The supply part of this is
very active as well. There are almost a dozen mutual fund and investment firms
filing for exemptive relief, i.e. the ability do to active portfolio management
in an ETF and bring more ETFs out to the market.
The last one is The Speculation. PimcoĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Total Return ETF
is scheduled to launch in just over a month. The big question is, what kind of
impact this ETF will be on the market and why is Pimco doing this. At the
conference, it seems that everyone had an opinion on both of these. Clearly
this being an ETF conference, everyone expects this to be a watershed event for
the ETF industry. The thought is that by launching this ETF, the funds will
start piling in into this product and the rest of ETFs will experience a tail
wind from such a big splash. other ETFs as well. I would generally agree with
this, but I would want to see the performance of this product relative to its
mutual fund older brother. The ETF by default would have to be different and
have different holdings than the mutual fund because there will be no
derivatives of any kind. So although undoubtedly Bill Gross can and will
generate market demand, I hope the performance will not deteriorate due to such
a large one time asset inflow.
I highly recommend going to quality conferences like
these. I learned a great deal and I met some very interesting people, who are
innovative and ahead of the curve. The conversations are easy, people are relaxed
being away from their desks and there is a lot of talent on the ground.