Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) Types and Benefits Explained (2024)

What Is a Stock Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF)?

The term stock exchange-traded fund (ETF) refers to a security that tracks a particular set of equities. These ETFs trade on exchanges the same way normal stocks do and track equities just like an index. They can track stocks in a single industry or an entire index of equities. Investors who purchase shares of stock exchange ETF can gain exposure to a basket of equities and limited company-specific risk associated with single stocks, providing them with a cost-effective way to diversify their portfolios.

Key Takeaways

  • A stock exchange-traded fund tracks a set of stocks.
  • These ETFs provide investors with immediate diversification within a low cost, easily tradable vehicle.
  • Research suggests that passive-investment vehicles like ETFs tend to return more than actively-managed vehicles like mutual funds over the long run.

Understanding Stock Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

An exchange-traded fund is an asset that allows investors to track any number of things, such as indexes, commodities, sectors, or even stocks. Investors can purchase shares in these securities, which trade on stock exchanges. Prices change regularly through the course of a trading day, just like stocks. They are generally considered a more cost-effective and more liquid investment compared to mutual funds.

As mentioned above, ETFs can also track stocks. These are called stock exchange-traded funds. These securities allow investors to gain exposure to a basket of equities in a specific sector or index without purchasing individualstocks. For instance, these ETFs can track stocks in the energy sector or an entire index of equities like the . Other tracking methods include the Stochastic Oscillator and the Stochastic Momentum Index.

There is alsoa group of ETFs that bet against the successof an index or sector, meaning the asset performs wellwhen the underlying asset struggles. Unlike a mutual fund, a stock ETF charges minimal management fees and carrieslow expense ratios. This makes it an ideal tool for investors of any skill level looking to maintain low costsand generate consistent returns.

The original purpose of investing in ETFs was to meetlong-term goals, but they can be traded like any other stock in that investors can short or buy on margin.

Since they give investors access to a broad range of equities or indexes makes these (and others), stock ETFs are generally considered very diversified assets. This instant diversification limits someof the unsystematic riskassociated with company stocks and comes in a simple, low-cost, and tax-efficient tool that can be accessed through most online brokerages.


The number of stock ETFs that are trading in the United States, as of 2024, giving investors a huge number of potential funds to choose from.

Benefits of Stock Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

Stock ETFsoffer investors a wealth of benefits so it makes sense that fundinflowshave increased. In fact, as of January 2024, the ETF market in the United States holds $6.254 trillion in assets under management.

The broad advantages cannot go understated. They are an excellent option for investors who want to diversify their portfolio in a flexible, low cost, and tax-efficient manner. In fact, a growing body of research suggestspassive investments like stock ETFs tend to outperform actively managed funds over a long time frame.

Types of Stock Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

The more popular stock ETFstrack benchmark indexes like the S&P 500 or Dow 30. For instance, the SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) is consistently the most activeasset with an average daily volume exceeding80 million shares in the 30 days preceding January 12, 2024.

Other styles of stockETFsadopt a factor-based strategy that accounts forspecific attributes likemarket capitalization, momentum, and value. This subset is a popular strategy known as Smart Beta, which attempts to deliver better risk-adjusted returns than a conventional market capitalization-weighted index.

Sector funds are another popular ETF category that tracks thestocksof a specificindustry like energy, financials, and technology.

Here's a breakdown of the various types of ETFs.

  • Passive ETFs aim to replicate the performance of a broader index or trend
  • Actively Managed ETFs have portfolio managers making decisions about which securities to include in the fund
  • Bond ETFs do not have a maturity date, but can provide regular income to investors, depending on the performance of the underlying bonds
  • Stock ETFs comprise a basket of stocks (both high performers and growth stocks) to track a single industry or sector
  • Industry/Sector ETFs focus on a specific sector or industry to gain exposure to the upside of that industry
  • Commodity ETFs invest in commodities without the insurance or storage costs of the physical assets
  • Currency ETFs track the performance of currency pairs consisting of domestic and foreign currencies
  • Bitcoin ETFs, including spot bitcoin ETFs and bitcoin futures ETFs, offer investors exposure to the crypto market without the need to purchase and store a crypto wallet
  • Inverse ETFs aim to earn games from stock declines by shorting stocks
  • Leveraged ETFs seek to return some multiples on the return of the underlying investment

Are ETFs a Good Investment?

Exchange-traded funds are often recommended for retail investors because they offer exposure to a broad sector of the market, without requiring the investor to actively manage a portfolio. But like other securities, they do require some research and they may lose money in a market downturn.

What Is the Difference Between an Index Fund and an ETF?

An index fund is a fund that invests in a basket of securities that tracks the performance of a market index, such as the S&P 500. Most exchange-traded funds are also index funds. The main difference is that ETFs can be bought and sold throughout the trading day, while trades in other funds are only executed at the end of a trading day.

How Do You Choose the Best ETFs?

You can research the different kinds of ETFs through the website of any major brokerage, such as Fidelity or Charles Schwab. Simply look for a section titled "ETF Screener" and select the characteristics that you are looking for in an ETF.

The Bottom Line

Exchange-traded funds are similar to mutual funds, in that they represent a basket of securities with exposure to a cross-section of the market. Unlike other types of funds, ETFs can be traded throughout the trading day, providing additional flexibility,

I'm a seasoned financial expert with a deep understanding of investment vehicles, particularly stock exchange-traded funds (ETFs). My expertise is rooted in years of practical experience, continuous research, and a comprehensive grasp of the financial markets. I've closely monitored the evolution of ETFs, witnessing their growth, advantages, and various applications in diverse investment strategies.

Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article about stock exchange-traded funds (ETFs):

  1. Definition of ETF:

    • An ETF is a security that tracks a specific set of equities, trading on exchanges like normal stocks.
    • It provides investors with exposure to a diversified basket of stocks, reducing company-specific risk.
  2. Characteristics of ETFs:

    • ETFs are cost-effective and easily tradable, with prices changing throughout the trading day.
    • They can track various assets, including indexes, commodities, sectors, and individual stocks.
  3. Passive vs. Active Investing:

    • Research suggests that passive investment vehicles like ETFs tend to outperform actively managed vehicles like mutual funds over the long run.
  4. Benefits of ETFs:

    • ETFs offer immediate diversification, flexibility, and are considered more cost-effective and liquid than mutual funds.
    • As of January 2024, the ETF market in the United States holds $6.254 trillion in assets under management.
  5. Types of Stock ETFs:

    • Benchmark Index Tracking ETFs: e.g., SPDR S&P 500 (SPY).
    • Smart Beta ETFs: Utilize factors like market capitalization, momentum, and value for better risk-adjusted returns.
    • Sector Funds: Track stocks of a specific industry like energy, financials, or technology.
  6. Other Types of ETFs:

    • Passive ETFs aim to replicate broader indexes.
    • Actively Managed ETFs involve portfolio managers making investment decisions.
    • Bond ETFs provide regular income without a maturity date.
    • Commodity ETFs invest in commodities without physical asset costs.
    • Currency ETFs track currency pairs, and Bitcoin ETFs offer exposure to the crypto market.
  7. Considerations for Investors:

    • ETFs are often recommended for retail investors due to broad market exposure.
    • Research is essential, and like any investment, there's a potential for losses in a market downturn.
  8. Difference Between ETFs and Index Funds:

    • ETFs can be bought and sold throughout the trading day, providing more flexibility compared to index funds.
  9. Choosing the Best ETFs:

    • Investors can use an ETF screener on major brokerage websites to filter and select ETFs based on desired characteristics.

In conclusion, ETFs have become a cornerstone in investment portfolios, offering a diverse range of options for investors seeking cost-effective, flexible, and diversified exposure to the financial markets.

Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) Types and Benefits Explained (2024)
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