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Exchange Traded Funds

23 August 2019

Exchange traded funds (ETFs), along with other passive investments, are becoming more popular with South African investors. First launched in SA in 2000, they’ve gained traction in recent years as investors become more cost conscious as a result of muted market returns over the past few years.

The Local Market

ETFs still make up a much larger portion of the funds invested in markets such as the US than they do in SA however, meaning local investors could be missing out on a cost-effective way to gain overall market exposure.

The argument still exists that developed markets such as the US are more efficient when it comes to pricing, in other words, that the prices of the shares have taken into account all factors, present and future, that may affect the price of that share. Some believe this pricing mechanism to be less efficient in developing markets, such as South Africa, hence the tendency to stick with actively managed funds where managers are able to take advantage of any opportunities presented by the market.

What Exactly Is an ETF?

ETFs are similar to unit trusts, but are listed on the stock exchange and they typically track a specific index, although commodity ETFs are also available. Because they are listed on an exchange, the price changes throughout the day (as opposed to a unit trust which has daily pricing) and investors can buy and sell their ETFs throughout the day.

While it may be difficult for a novice investor to select individual shares, any investor can get started by investing in an index (made up of all the shares listed on that index) and will receive the market return, known as beta, minus a cost.

Main Benefits of Investing via an ETF

  • ETFs tend to have lower costs than actively managed unit trust investments (although passive unit trusts are also available)
  • ETFs are highly regulated
  • Investors gain exposure to a number of shares in the index via a single investment, without having to research and invest in each single share
  • Depending on the index chosen, investors gain access to offshore markets via the JSE
  • ETFs are transparent as investors can readily see the underlying companies that make up the index
  • When investing via the Glacier platform, any dividends received are automatically reinvested to further enhance the growth of the investment

ETFs Are Well Regulated

In South Africa, ETFs (as well as unit trusts) are governed by the Collective Investment Schemes Control Act (CISCA). Both ETFs and unit trust funds are monitored by independent trustees and are regulated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA).

ETFs Are Suited to All Investors

According to Dean De Nysschen, a research and investment analyst at Glacier by Sanlam, ETFs have a place in the portfolios of both novice and experienced investors. Before investing in a particular index – as with any other investment – investors should take into account their time horizon, as well as their ability and capacity to take on risk. ETFs, like unit trusts, will experience volatility in line with market movements. Investors should be prepared to invest for at least five years, possibly even seven to ten years, to see and enjoy real growth.

“Some ETFs, for example, those investing in high dividend-yielding companies, are better suited to providing income, whereas other ETFs are more suited to growing capital. Due to the increasing number of ETFs available, as well as the introduction of smart beta funds that aim to outperform the index, investors need to carefully consider which index to invest in, aligned with their needs and goals,” he says.

Investors can combine ETFs with actively managed funds for optimal performance across their overall portfolio.

Glacier recommends that investors obtain advice from a qualified financial adviser before investing.

ETFs Available on the Glacier Platform

Earlier this year, Glacier partnered with Satrix, the second largest provider of passive investments in SA, to make a limited range of ETFs available directly on the Glacier platform. ETFs available include the Satrix Top 40 ETF for local market exposure, and for offshore exposure investors can select from Satrix’s rand-denominated MSCI World, MSCI Emerging Markets, S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 ETFs.

“Investors can now invest in ETFs alongside unit trusts, simplifying access to these investment options. These cost-effective opportunities are available within retirement and discretionary savings portfolios, allowing investors to diversify portfolios and reduce overall costs,” says Roenica Tyson, Investment Product Manager at Glacier.

Glacier Financial Solutions (Pty) Ltd and Sanlam Life Insurance Ltd are licensed financial services providers. Satrix Managers (RF) (Pty) Ltd (Satrix) is a registered and approved Manager in Collective Investment Schemes in Securities and an authorised financial services provider in terms of the FAIS.
Sanlam Life Insurance is a licensed financial service provider.
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