AMA First Investment
Asked by Anonymous
Asked on 31 Jan 2019
In general, you should be looking at :
Mornningstar did a study few years back on fund fees in relation to performance.
In short, the cheapest funds perforrm the best.
Please do not take my statement at face value and do your research
For index ETFs, just simply looked at their respective historical performance since the financial crisis 2008. A rule of thumb for me is that if till date the index had not recovered/exceed the pre-crisis drop levels, best to avoid it. Its a sign that the component stocks that constitue the index just aint dynamic and vibrant enough to shrug off setbacks
ETFs have been a growth area in the investment arena for last few years so answer is by nature a little complex. Will try best to break down the different considerations as much as possible.
First, important overall thing to keep in mind - for the traditional ETFs (those that track an index), the purpose is a vehicle to allow you to express a certain investment view. So suppose there is a Gold ETF with zero fees, able to track gold price perfectly. If gold price tanks and so would the ETF price. But this is a (dreamland perfect) GREAT ETF manager! You have to seperate the manager performance from the impact of the investment view.
Now for traditional ETFs, key measures of the "goodness" of the manager would be fees and tracking error. Seperately on investor level - you may also consider the domcile for tax reasons.
For fees - depends a bit on the underlying investment mandate. For very standard indicies/instruments (eg S&P500 / Gold price) the fees can be very low - less than 10 basis points; it is fairly easy to set up a relicating portfolio and no clever work needed. For more exotic indicies or bond ETFs (which may have indicies which are hard/impossible to replicate) then there is more work needed when building the portfolio composition and use of derivatives to make up for less-than-perfect replication - so the fees may be higher; as a guide anything up to about 0.7% isn't impossible (but really depends on complexity; the upper end is rare and only for really customized indicies).
Tracking error - so fees are low (hopefully!) but then cheap can be crap right? how do you measure goodness? That is where tracking error comes in. An ETF would have a stated mandate (eg replicate the returns of S&P500 as a simple example). A key measure of the success would be how well they achieve the exposure that they said they will give you (which you have hopefully incorporated in your overall investment asset allocation) and this is measured by tracking error. You want low tracking error as it mean the manager is doing a good job. Again for widely held "famous" indicies this is easier than for bespoke indicies - so make sure you are comparing similar ETFs (eg SPY vs. VOO vs. VTI).
Domicile - this one is a bit out of manager control; but a consideration from investor level - US domiciled ETFs are subject to withholding tax whereas (due to regulatory quirks) Ireland domiciled ETFs can get a tax break. While that helps the Irish ETFs, do keep in mind they are much less liquid (so you like pay more spreads to purchase) and tend to have higher fees.
That's it for the traditional ETF space; as I said, innovation in ETFs is high these days due to the ballooning AUM and investor interest - so there is active ETFs; this is an area of ongoing changes in regulation/approach (eg London SE and Italian SE are both owned by the same parent but have different approaches to managing active ETFs) - the considerations for those are quite different so out of scope this time - perhaps raise another query if of interest.
The one ETF everyone knows about is certainly not diverse in nature (The STI ETF). Consider the all-in cost including any account fees, trading fees, managing fees, rebalancing fees. Recognize that this is designed to be a long term decision.
Diversification should come across sectorally, not globally - meaning that it should be widespread across sectors like consumer staples, financials, tech, etc, not across countries like China, US, Malaysia, etc. Which is a little bit why the STI is a piece of gunk.
You could do much better than an ETF, but its your call.