Bridge over ocean
29 October 2019 Issue Brief

Exchange Traded Funds (ETF)

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are funds that track indexes like the NASDAQ-100 Index, S&P 500, Dow Jones, etc.  The shares of an ETF are shares of a portfolio that tracks the yield and return of its native index. The main difference between ETFs and other types of index funds is that ETFs don't try to outperform their corresponding index, but simply seek to replicate its performance. An important characteristic of these ETFs is that they seek to achieve their stated objectives on a daily basis, and their performance over longer periods of time can differ significantly from the multiple or inverse multiple of the index performance over those longer periods of time. ETFs also include actively managed ETFs that pursue active management strategies and publish their portfolio holdings on a daily basis. ETFs have been around since the early 1980s, but they've come into their own within the past 10 years.

An ETF (like a mutual fund) must calculate its NAV (the value of all its assets minus all its liabilities) every business day, which is done typically at the close of the New York Stock Exchange. Approximately every 15 seconds throughout the business day, an ETF’s estimated NAV is calculated and distributed through quote services. This estimated is unique to ETFs and is based on the estimated value of the ETF’s holdings (minus its liabilities) throughout the trading day.

Total assets under management (AUM) in ETFs stood at approximately $3 trillion globally in 2016.  


The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), under the Securities Act of 1933, regulates the vast majority of ETFs.  The only exception are ETFs that invest in commodity futures; the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) regulates them, though the SEC regulates ETFs that invest in physical commodities.

We’re using cookies, but you can turn them off in Privacy Settings.  Otherwise, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.  Accepting cookies does not mean that we are collecting personal data. Learn more in our Privacy Policy.