3 Rules for Investing in Leveraged ETFs. Looking to buy ETFs that offer magnified exposure to stocks, bonds, or gold? Before diving in head-first, Ron DeLegge, Chief Portfolio Strategist @ ETFguide explains how leveraged ETFs work.He talks about 3 Rules for Investing in Leveraged ETFs
Ron also gives you three important rules for using these high octane funds.
Leveraged exchange-traded funds (LETFs), or simply leveraged ETFs, are a special type of ETF that attempt to achieve returns that are more sensitive to market movements than non-leveraged ETFs. Leveraged index ETFs are often marketed as bull or bear funds. A leveraged bull ETF fund might for example attempt to achieve daily returns that are 2x or 3x more pronounced than the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500. A leveraged inverse (bear) ETF fund on the other hand may attempt to achieve returns that are -2x or -3x the daily index return, meaning that it will gain double or triple the loss of the market. Leveraged ETFs require the use of financial engineering techniques, including the use of equity swaps, derivatives and rebalancing, and re-indexing to achieve the desired return. The most common way to construct leveraged ETFs is by trading futures contracts.
The rebalancing and re-indexing of leveraged ETFs may have considerable costs when markets are volatile. The rebalancing problem is that the fund manager incurs trading losses because he needs to buy when the index goes up and sell when the index goes down in order to maintain a fixed leverage ratio. A 2.5% daily change in the index will for example reduce value of a -2x bear fund by about 0.18% per day, which means that about a third of the fund may be wasted in trading losses within a year (1-(1-0.18%)252=36.5%). Investors may however circumvent this problem by buying or writing futures directly, accepting a varying leverage ratio. A more reasonable estimate of daily market changes is 0.5%, which leads to a 2.6% yearly loss of principal in a 3x leveraged fund.
The re-indexing problem of leveraged ETFs stems from the arithmetic effect of volatility of the underlying index. Take, for example, an index that begins at 100 and a 2X fund based on that index that also starts at 100. In a first trading period (for example, a day), the index rises 10% to 110. The 2X fund will then rise 20% to 120. The index then drops back to 100 (a drop of 9.09%), so that it is now even. The drop in the 2X fund will be 18.18% (2*9.09). But 18.18% of 120 is 21.82. This puts the value of the 2X fund at 98.18. Even though the index is unchanged after two trading periods, an investor in the 2X fund would have lost 1.82%. This decline in value can be even greater for inverse funds (leveraged funds with negative multipliers such as -1, -2, or -3). It always occurs when the change in value of the underlying index changes direction. And the decay in value increases with volatility of the underlying index.