In my post on ETFs in the Core in May, I mentioned that the goal of most investors is to manage risk, seek income, and achieve long-term growth. These goals, of course, need to be built on a solid foundation: the “core” of a portfolio. The idea of the core is to establish the right mix of exposures and investments, at an attractive price point, that seek to drive value over the long term.
With over 5,000 ETFs to choose from, building your core with ETFs does require a framework. Institutional investors have extensive due diligence processes for selecting investment products and in many cases, a whole staff to do the work. Based on my extensive work with institutions I propose using a simplified approach when selecting ETFs for the core of your portfolio. Here are the five key questions you should be asking:
1. Provider – How well do you know your provider?
Consider both the ETF provider’s experience in the ETF market, as well as the provider’s size, scale, track record and level of commitment to the ETF industry and to managing exposures versus a rule or an index. Different ETF providers have different investment philosophies. Importantly, your ETF provider should offer value add services, including a user-friendly web site with tools to help you build your core. For example, iShares utilizes the interactive Core Builder tool to help investors navigate possible ways to achieve this objective.
2. Exposure – Can you get the exposure you want?
ETFs, even within a particular asset class or segment of the market, can vary significantly. Pay attention to the index and ask your financial advisor questions about differences between products and its ability to track a core index or benchmark. Understand the exposure you want and ensure the ETF you select is capturing that.
3. Structure – Are there risk & cost implications from the ETF structure?
Look for ETFs whose product design balances desired exposure with cost and tax efficiency, as well as liquidity. In general, the ETF structure can help minimize the unintended tax consequences. Generally speaking, ETFs tend to have lower turnover relative to actively managed funds, which can help minimize annual capital gains taxes.
4. Liquidity – Can you trade when you need to?
Because ETFs trade on exchange, liquidity is a huge factor in why many investors utilize them. Even for core holdings, which are by definition more long-term in nature, you still want to ensure you have the ability to trade when it’s time to dial up or down your exposure. However, be sure to examine the liquidity of the ETF itself, as well as liquidity of underlying securities.
5. Costs – What is the total cost of ownership?
Expense ratios are important, however all implicit costs including trading and market impact, should be factored in. Your financial advisor can help you estimate the impact of your trade before it’s placed.
Capital Gains Taxes: A type of tax levied on capital gains incurred by individuals and corporations. Capital gains are the profits that an investor realizes when he or she sells the capital asset for a price that is higher than the purchase price. Capital gains taxes are only triggered when an asset is realized, not while it is held by an investor. An investor can own shares that appreciate every year, but the investor does not incur a capital gains tax on the shares until they are sold.
Carefully consider the Funds’ investment objectives, risk factors, and charges and expenses before investing. This and other information can be found in the Funds’ prospectuses or, if available, the summary prospectuses which may be obtained by visiting www.iShares.com or www.blackrock.com. Read the prospectus carefully before investing.
Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.
The Funds are distributed by BlackRock Investments, LLC (together with its affiliates, “BlackRock”).
The strategies discussed are strictly for illustrative and educational purposes and should not be construed as a recommendation to purchase or sell, or an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security. There is no guarantee that any strategies discussed will be effective. The information provided is not intended to be a complete analysis of every material fact respecting any strategy. The examples presented do not take into consideration commissions, tax implications or other transactions costs, which may significantly affect the economic consequences of a given strategy. Diversification and asset allocation may not protect against market risk.
There can be no assurance that an active trading market for shares of an ETF will develop or be maintained.
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