The Investor Allure of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

It’s no secret: ETFs are hot. And with Wall Street pushing ETFs as the newest investment vehicle for all, it’s hard not to ignore the idea of using an ETF. It’s the low costs, liquidity, lower taxes, transparency, and specialization offered by ETFs that is making investors switch to ETFs.

Basically these ETFs are a liquid, low cost mutual fund, holding a pool of stocks within a specialized sector of the economy. For an example of such a specialized fund, think about an ETF of silver mining companies. This fund would be a holding–based on a certain percentage–of each major metal mining company. However, when compared to a classic mutual fund, the cost advantages of ETFs are huge.

Unlike ETFs, the costs run in the billions for mutual funds to hire analysis, accountants, and marketing firms. And a few of those billions could be money in your account. So, an ETF is an alluring alternative to a mutual fund. It’s the strong point of an ETF: lower fees and costs mean more money flowing to investors.

Also unlike mutual funds, ETFs can be more liquid. Many investors see mutual funds as a place to park money for a period of time, thus theses mutual funds aren’t nearly traded as ETFs. Because ETFs are bought and sold just like stocks, ETFs create trading opportunities that mutual funds just don’t offer. It’s this liquidity that draws many investors to ETFs over the traditional mutual fund.

What investor doesn’t like lower taxes? Exactly. These lower taxes provided by ETFs are also a big attraction for investors. Because ETFs don’t have trigger-happy managers running the ETF, the investor doesn’t have additional taxes to worry about. So far, taxes for ETFs are capital gains tax if you sell and some funds–but not all–have dividends.

It’s also the transparency drawing many investors into these funds because at any time you can see exactly what the fund is comprised of. The fund will usually have a set percentage in each investment. This kind of transparency is hardly found in either mutual funds or on Wall Street—that’s why investors are running to ETFs: complete transparency.

ETFs provide investors specialized segment of an industry. In this case well stick to precious metals. The iShare Silver ETF (SLV) holds a certain amount of bullion and prices closely follow the price of silver. On the other hand, streetTRACKS Gold Shares (GLD) is a fund of gold mining companies. Still, both funds are investments into the precious metals market.

On a side note, investors interested in leveraging returns will be glad to know that ETFs can be bought on margin, and options are available on ETFs. As cliché as this saying is, it is important to remember leverage is a double-edge sword: cutting out huge returns, as well as, cutting out the ignorant investors.

While ETFs are pushed by Wall Street and as other investors brag about her double digit returns, prudent investors remember: some investments–just aren’t made for everyone. So the dive into ETFs will depend on your investing personality and investment goals. So be sure to follow some sound advice: Eight Rules for Exchange Traded Funds.

Some investors will want the ease of investing in a specialized sector without having to sit down and pick the companies within that specialized sector. While other investors will want to research for hours and pick the best company within that sector, it depends on the investor weather ETFs are the right investment.