Reading this article about ETFs on FT.com and systemic risks it is interesting and worthwhile to refer to some of the advantages and disadvantages of Exchange traded funds.
As the article mentions, ETFs have gained a lot of popularity during last years as a new form of passive investing. There are many categories of ETFs offering both flexibility and the freedom for a passive investor to choose what type of investment to focus on. From popular commodities such as oil and gold to major indices such as S&P 500 or Nasdaq ETFs allow to any investor to follow the moves without worrying too much about individual stock picking.
Major advantages of ETFs:
1. Invest in a wide range of assets at any time on a daily basis, buy or sell
2. Passive investing, capturing the return of the whole index
4. Innovation investing in new asset classes and flexibility, new investing ideas
5. Offer liquidity
6. Tax advantages
7. Lower costs compared to Mutual funds
Major disadvantages of ETFs:
1. Systemic risks
2. Not control at the individual components of the ETF, passive investing
3. Not be able to outperform the general market, as their return should match the return of the asset class i.e. S@P 500
4. Problems for emerging markets due to illiquidity and fast turnover
There are also major differences between Europe and USA as ETFs are more popular in the USA, and are much more tax-efficient in the US market. Distribution and fragmentation have made ETFs less popular as investing choices in Europe.
So overall Exchange Traded Funds are a smart and effective way of investing. But there are a passive way of investing, so they are not suitable for stock-pickers. This does not mean that they are only long-term horizon related investing tools. The oil has made a nice rally during last week and an investor in an oil ETF going long would have a nice return in a very short period of time. ETFs are another great example of financial engineering, offering solutions, innovation, and flexibility to modern investing.