What Is a Leveraged ETF?

What Is a Leveraged ETF?

8 Min.

A Leveraged Exchange-Traded Fund (LETF) is a type of investment that uses financial derivatives and debt to increase the returns of an underlying asset such as an index, stock, bond, or currency. While a traditional ETF usually tracks the securities in its underlying index on a one-to-one basis, a LETF may aim for a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. However, it's important to note that leverage can be a double-edged sword since it can lead to significant gains but can also lead to significant losses.


Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds represent a distinctive class of securities deploying financial derivatives and debt to enhance returns from the underlying index or assets they monitor. Introduced in 2022, certain LETFs focus on individual stocks and cryptocurrencies, intensifying the inherent volatility of trading strategies. Unlike traditional ETFs that usually mirror their underlying index on a one-to-one basis, LETFs strive for a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. Common indexes, including the Nasdaq 100 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, offer LETF products.

It's crucial to note that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sanctioned LETFs in 2006, sparking concerns among market analysts about their potential impact on overall market volatility due to their ability to amplify market swings.

Despite their allure for day-to-day trading, caution is warranted. Market experts consistently advise against viewing LETFs as long-term investments, emphasizing their unpredictable results over extended periods and the potential for substantial compounded losses. To mitigate risks associated with LETFs, regulatory bodies consistently scrutinize them. Investors are urged to understand the intricacies of these instruments before investing.

Understanding the Dynamics of Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds

Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds operate similarly to conventional securities traded on the stock market, comprising a diverse array of securities, including those tied to specific indices, thematic stock selections, or individual stocks, along with derivatives, fixed-income securities, and currency. For instance, ETFs mirroring the S&P 500 Index encompass the 500 constituent stocks, ensuring a proportional movement with the index's fluctuations.

In the context of LETFs tracking the S&P 500, financial instruments and debt are employed to amplify the index's 1% gain to 2% or 3%, contingent on the degree of leverage applied. Leveraging, an investment strategy utilizing borrowed funds for futures and derivatives, enhances the impact of price changes. LETFs predominantly deploy futures contracts, index futures, and swap agreements to accentuate daily returns.

This leveraging mechanism introduces heightened risks, potentially leading to magnified losses when the underlying index experiences a decline. Investors must exercise caution, recognizing that LETFs pose a significantly greater risk of losses compared to traditional investments. D.J. Abner, author of the "ETF Handbook," underscores the importance of thorough scrutiny of prospectuses and investor warnings before engaging in such securities.

Additionally, investors should be mindful of the impact of management fees and transaction costs on LETF returns. According to ETF.com, the 170 LETFs monitored in the US markets have an average expense ratio of 1.02%. This highlights the importance of considering costs when managing these leveraged investment vehicles.

Understanding Leverage Dynamics in Exchange-Traded Funds

Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds employ derivatives to enhance exposure to specific indices or targeted assets, spanning stocks, cryptocurrency, and commodities. Unlike seeking monthly or annual returns, LETFs track daily fluctuations with a daily reset.

LETFs derive leverage from diverse sources. Borrowing is one avenue, where a fund seeking double returns borrows an equivalent amount, effectively doubling the invested capital. Additionally, LETFs utilize derivatives such as futures contracts, forward contracts, total return swaps, and options.

  • Futures contracts involve buying or selling an asset at a predetermined price and time on exchanges.
  • Forward contracts, unlike futures, are customizable private agreements for future asset trades.
  • Total return swaps involve one party paying the total return of tracked assets to another party at a fixed or floating rate.
  • Options grant the ability to buy (call option) or sell (put option) an asset without obligation, with upfront premiums.

Synthetic replication, employing derivatives for returns, is considered more efficient than direct borrowing, enhancing LETFs' efficiency. With upfront premiums, options enable investors to buy numerous shares, contributing to LETFs' gains over 1:1 traditional ETFs. Leveraged inverse ETFs leverage declines in the underlying index for profit, rising amid falling indices, offering investors gains in bearish markets or declines.

Analyzing the Expenses Linked to Leverage

In addition to management and transaction fees, Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds entail additional costs, driven by higher fees compared to non-leveraged ETFs. These elevated costs stem from the necessity to cover premiums, fees, and interest on derivatives and margin expenses, leading many LETFs to exhibit expense ratios exceeding 1%.

Despite the comparatively higher expense ratios, LETFs often present a more cost-effective alternative to other margin-related strategies. Margin trading involves a broker lending money to customers, using securities as collateral, and charging interest on the margin loan. Notably, short selling and margin usage to buy stock can incur fees exceeding 3%, with potential additional costs like margin calls if the position incurs losses, prompting the broker to request more funds to support the account.

Time Horizon Considerations for Leveraged ETFs

Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds predominantly attract day traders seeking speculative opportunities in specific indices or targeted asset sets. The nature of the derivatives used for leverage makes long-term investments challenging, aligning LETFs more with day trading strategies.

LETFs are unsuitable for extended investment horizons due to their focus on intraday returns and the daily reset mechanism preventing cumulative growth. Long-term investors seeking stability are advised to explore alternative financial products better suited for extended holding periods.


  • LETFs present the potential for substantial gains surpassing the tracked index or assets.
  • Investors can choose from a diverse range of securities for trading within the LETF framework.
  • Inverse LETFs enable profit generation during market declines.


  • LETFs carry the risk of significant losses exceeding the tracked index or assets.
  • Higher fees and expense ratios in LETFs compared to traditional ETFs.
  • LETFs are not conducive to long-term investment strategies.

Illustrating a Leveraged ETF in Action

The Direxion Daily Financial Bull 3x Shares (FAS) ETF exemplifies a real-world application of a leveraged ETF. This fund, with an expense ratio of 0.96%, tracks the Financial Select Sector Index, holding equities in prominent US financial companies, including Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B), Visa (V), and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM).

In pursuit of tripling the returns on the tracked financial stocks, FAS employs swap agreements, index securities, and ETFs tied to the index. Suppose an investor allocates $10,000 to FAS. If the underlying financial stocks rise by 1% in a single day, FAS aims to yield a 3% return, transforming the investment to $10,300 by day's end.

Conversely, if the tracked financial stocks decline by 2% in a day, FAS seeks a 6% loss on the same day, resulting in the original $10,000 investment decreasing to $9,400 before fees. This example underscores the dual nature of the multiplier, providing threefold gains in favorable market conditions and triple losses during market declines, emphasizing the impact of daily resets on cumulative returns.

The Influence of Daily Resets

The daily reset mechanism inherent in Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds necessitates daily portfolio rebalancing to maintain leverage. This feature renders LETFs unsuitable for long-term buy-and-hold strategies, as it prevents gains and losses from compounding over extended periods. While LETFs seek 3x leverage daily, the daily resetting can cause longer-term returns to deviate significantly from a simple threefold multiplication of the underlying index's total returns.

Illustrating this with a three-day example, assuming daily returns for the underlying financial index FAS:

  • Day 1: +1.0%
  • Day 2: -2.0%
  • Day 3: +0.5%

For FAS, the expected returns become +3.0%, -6.0%, and +1.5% for the respective days. Despite a 0.5% decline in the index over three days, the 3x LETF experiences more than a 1.7% loss due to daily rebalancing, surpassing the anticipated 1.5% loss from a straightforward threefold multiplication.

Due to the daily reset mechanism, the sequence of daily gains and losses matters, causing LETF returns to significantly diverge from a simple multiplier of the underlying index's returns in volatile conditions. Consequently, while LETFs like FAS are effective for short-term trading strategies, they are not expected to consistently achieve a 3x return compared to the tracked index or assets over longer periods.

Navigating Tax Implications in Leveraged ETF Ownership

Owning Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds carries distinct tax implications due to their frequent trading and rebalancing activities. The potential for higher short-term capital gains, taxed at elevated rates compared to long-term gains, is a noteworthy consideration. Additionally, the use of derivatives and other financial instruments in these ETFs may introduce complexity to tax situations in certain instances. Given the intricacies involved, seeking guidance from a tax professional is advisable for personalized advice tailored to individual circumstances.


Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds serve as specialized financial instruments crafted to deliver amplified daily performance multiples of specific indices or assets through the use of derivative leverage. Tailored for experienced traders and aligned with short-term investment strategies, particularly intraday movements, LETFs are deployed in anticipation of swift and significant market shifts. However, their intricate structure and the repercussions of daily rebalancing render them ill-suited for extended investments.

Investors are urged to exercise caution, acknowledging the elevated risk and volatility inherent in LETFs compared to traditional counterparts. A clear understanding of their mechanisms and potential impacts on investment portfolios is imperative due to their sensitivity to market fluctuations and associated operational costs.

Leveraged Exchange-Traded Fund (LETF)