Exchange traded funds comprise of groups of assets that are traded on the stock exchange. Similarly to mutual funds, ETFs track a basket of securities. This makes them more diversified than a single stock. Yet like stocks, they are easily traded, can be sold short, and often have lower transaction costs than mutual funds. ETFs tend to perform best under a buy-and-hold approach, but has the ease at which they trade caused investors to trade them more? Vanguard set out to answer this question.
They looked at “3.2 million transactions in more than 500,000 positions held in the mutual fund and ETF share classes of four different Vanguard funds from 2007-2011.” While ETFs were traded more often, mutual funds and exchange traded funds still had similar trading patterns.
Some in the investment community have suggested that ETFs tempt investors to increase their trading activity. Given the lack of investor-level analysis supporting or refuting this presumption, we examined the trading behavior of Vanguard investors. We found that, contrary to speculations in the popular media, most investments are held in a prudent, buy-and-hold manner, regardless of share class. Although behavior in ETFs is more active than behavior in traditional mutual funds, some of that difference is simply due to the fact that investors who are inclined to trade choose ETFs, not that investors who choose ETFs are induced to trade. We conclude that the ETF “temptation effect” is not a significant reason for long-term individual investors to avoid using appropriate ETF investments as part of a diversified investment portfolio.
In short, it is investors themselves that are responsible for increased trading of ETFs, not an inherent quality of the funds. Owning exchange traded funds won’t lure a long-term owner toward short-term trading.