What Are Exchange-Traded Notes (ETNs)?

What Are Exchange-Traded Notes (ETNs)?

5 Min.

An Exchange-Traded Note (ETN) is a type of investment that tracks an underlying index of securities. It is similar to a bond in that it is an unsecured debt security. However, unlike bonds, ETNs do not pay periodic interest payments. Instead, investors can buy and sell ETNs on major exchanges, just like stocks, and profit from the difference in their value after subtracting any fees.


Exchange-Traded Notes represent unsecured debt securities linked to an underlying index of securities, actively traded on major exchanges akin to stocks. While resembling bonds, ETNs diverge by lacking interest payments, with their value subject to stock-like fluctuations.

How Do Exchange-Traded Notes Work?

Exchange-Traded Notes (ETNs) are debt securities issued by financial institutions that track the performance of underlying indices, similar to bonds. At maturity, ETNs pay investors the index's return minus any fees but do not make periodic interest payments like traditional bonds. Upon maturity, fees are deducted by the financial institution, and investors receive cash based on the underlying index's performance. Traded on major exchanges, ETNs allow investors to capitalize on price differentials between purchase and sale after accounting for fees.

Unlike Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), which own the securities they track, ETNs lack ownership rights but provide investors with returns mirroring the index. Like debt securities, investors rely on the issuer to fulfill the return commitment based on the index.

Barclays Bank PLC pioneered ETNs in 2006, with typical issuances by banks and financial institutions at $50 per share, influenced by the underlying index's performance.

ETN Issuer Risk Factors

The risk associated with an ETN issuer stems from the underlying index's performance, impacting the repayment of the invested principal. In cases where the index declines or fails to cover transaction fees, investors receive less at maturity than the initial investment. The issuer's financial stability directly influences an ETN's capacity to repay principal and index gains, with the issuer's credit rating significantly affecting the ETN's value. Despite a stable index, a credit rating downgrade may lead to a decline in the ETN's value.

Investors should acknowledge the potential for issuer default triggered by an inability to repay principal. Additionally, external factors such as political, economic, legal, or regulatory changes may impede timely payments to ETN investors.

Issuers employing options to achieve index returns introduce heightened risk, as options can amplify gains or losses. The issuer's right to transact stocks through premium payments in the options market, characterized by short-term contracts and volatile premiums, increases investor exposure.

Closure risk, wherein an issuer may prematurely close an ETN, poses another concern. In such instances, investors receive the prevailing market price, potentially resulting in losses if the sale price is lower than the purchase price. The early redemption feature is explicitly disclosed to investors.

Index Tracking Risks

The goal is to achieve a close correlation between the ETN price and the index, yet occasional discrepancies, known as tracking errors, may arise. These errors result from credit concerns with the issuer, causing the ETN price to deviate from the underlying index.

Liquidity-Related Risks in ETNs

Liquidity-related risks in Exchange-Traded Notes manifest when a financial institution refrains from issuing new ETNs, leading to a surge in existing ETN prices due to limited supply. Consequently, these ETNs may trade at a premium compared to the tracked index. Conversely, an abrupt decision by the bank to introduce additional ETNs can result in price depreciation due to excess supply.

The variability in trading activity for ETNs can result in significant price deviations from their actual values, impacting both buyers and sellers. Investors selling ETNs before maturity may experience substantial gains or losses.


  • ETN investors realize profits with a higher underlying index at maturity.
  • Elimination of the need to own underlying securities.
  • Exchange-Traded Notes are actively traded on major exchanges.


  • Absence of regular interest payments.
  • Default risk tied to the issuer's financial stability.
  • Potential for low trading volumes causing premium prices.
  • Risk of tracking errors if ETN deviates from the underlying index.

ETN Taxation Overview

The variation between the ETN's purchase and selling prices is generally classified as a capital gain or loss for income tax considerations. Investors can opt to defer the gain until the ETN is sold or matures. It is advisable for investors to consult a tax professional for personalized guidance on potential tax implications based on their specific circumstances.

Case Study: Energy Infrastructure ETN

Illustrating the practical application of Exchange-Traded Notes, the JPMorgan Alerian MLP Index ETN (AMJ) focuses on energy sector companies functioning as master limited partnerships (MLPs). AMJ, boasting over $2.9 billion in assets and an expense ratio of 0.85%, has exhibited trading fluctuations between $7 and $26 per share since 2019. Investors should remain aware of inherent ETN risks, encompassing not only issuer credit risk but also the potential for substantial declines in the ETN's share price, as exemplified by AMJ.


ETNs offer a distinctive investment avenue by tracking underlying indices akin to bonds but without regular interest payments. While providing potential returns, they entail risks such as issuer default and tracking errors. Liquidity-related fluctuations and tax considerations further influence the ETN landscape. 

Exchange-Traded Notes (ETNs)
Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)