What Are Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)?

What Are Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)?

4 Min.

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are investments that share similarities with mutual funds but can be traded like stocks. ETFs can offer a wide range of options to investors who want to meet their specific needs and goals. If an investor wants to target particular industries or investment styles, ETFs focusing on gas or inverse investing could be suitable options. Additionally, ETFs are generally low-fee investments when compared to other securities.


Since their inception in the 1990s, exchange-traded funds swiftly gained investor favor due to distinctive advantages over mutual funds. Offering an alternative for those daunted by stock analysis, ETFs provide a streamlined investment approach. Explore the fundamentals and investment strategies associated with these financial instruments.

What Are Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)?

An exchange-traded fund functions akin to a stock-traded mutual fund. It mirrors an index such as the S&P 500 or the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, comprising a basket of securities. Unlike traditional mutual funds, ETFs trade on the stock exchange as independent entities, with prices fluctuating throughout the day based on supply and demand, distinct from the end-of-day net asset value (NAV) calculation.

While ETFs strive to replicate index returns, deviations from exact duplication can occur. The diversification of a mutual fund combines with the flexibility of a stock in ETF ownership. Trading similarly to stocks allows for short-selling and margin buying, while most ETFs boast lower expense ratios than average mutual funds. For instance, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) recorded a modest 0.0945% expense ratio in 2022. When you buy or sell ETFs, you will be charged standard broker commissions.

Types of ETFs

In 1993, the SPY marked the advent of ETFs in the United States, commencing trading on the American Stock Exchange (AMEX). Globally, thousands of ETFs cover various sector-specific, asset-type-specific, country-specific, and broad-market indexes. Noteworthy is the iShares MSCI Austrian Index fund (EWO), providing exposure to European stocks through the Austrian market.

Invesco QQQ Trust Series 1 (QQQ): Tech Sector Exposure

Tracking the Nasdaq 100, the QQQ ETF by Invesco offers broad exposure to the tech sector, mitigating risk associated with individual stock investments. Diversification becomes advantageous during market volatility, cushioning the impact of underperformance by a single tech company.

SPDRs: Cost-Effective S&P 500 Ownership

Known as spiders, SPDRs bundle the S&P 500, granting cost-effective ownership of the index. SPDRs further divide S&P 500 sectors into separate ETFs, such as the SPDR Select Sector Fund - Technology (XLK).

iShares and Vanguard: Global Investment Giants

BlackRock's iShares, with over 800 ETFs globally and $1.9 trillion under management, covers major indexes worldwide. Vanguard also boasts an extensive range of branded ETFs spanning various market sectors.

Diamonds ETF: Tracking Dow Jones

Despite its name, the Diamonds ETF (DIA) is the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF, tracking the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Structured as a unit investment trust, DIA trades on the NYSE ARCA.

Notably, while ETFs offer tax efficiency, investors are subject to taxation on earned income and capital gains during fund ownership and upon selling.

Diverse Investment Avenues Through ETFs

ETFs cater to various investment styles, providing novice and experienced investors options. These funds offer relief from the complexities of investing in individual companies or securities. Consider the following categories when delving into ETF investments.

Resource Allocation

Investors seeking exposure to natural resources can explore funds like the United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG). This ETF replicates natural gas prices after expenses, tracking them through futures contracts for the coming months.

Emerging Market Opportunities

For international exposure, particularly in emerging markets, explore ETFs like iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM). Created as an equity benchmark, it mirrors the performance of international securities.

Inverse/Opposite Movements

Not all ETFs follow the index they track. Inverse ETFs move in the opposite direction, providing opportunities when markets fluctuate. An example is the Direxion Daily Financial Bear 3x Shares (FAZ), a triple bear fund performing inversely to the Russell 1000 Financial Services Index. Leveraging derivatives, it gained popularity during the financial crisis, capitalizing on downward pressure on financial stocks.

Cost Efficiency in ETF Investments

ETFs offer cost-effective investment options, boasting an average expense ratio of 0.16% for index ETFs in 2022. Compare this to the average costs of mutual funds, with active funds at 0.66% and passive ones at 0.05%.

While ETF fees are generally low, additional charges may apply depending on your trading choices. Trading platforms or apps might impose buy and sell fees, commissions, and additional costs like bid-ask spreads, influencing the overall expenses associated with your investments.


ETFs present an uncomplicated approach to index and sector investing. Whether anticipating an upturn or foreseeing prolonged market challenges, the flexibility to go long or short is available. Instant diversification, cost efficiency, and flexibility characterize ETFs, marking them as a precious and appealing innovation in financial engineering. Numerous brokers offer diverse options for ETF investments.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)