Viewing Volatility Versus Uncertainty Through an ETF Lens

Investors certainly have had to face both volatility and uncertainty these past few weeks given coronavirus concerns and other geopolitical risks. David Mann, our Head of Capital Markets, Global Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), talks about the difference between the two through the lens of ETF trading.

In times of increased market volatility, ETFs will tend to trade at their typical bid/ask spreads even if the broader markets are up/down multiple percentage points. The reason is that market makers quote our funds based on the value of the underlying securities, and even during big market moves, they will still have confidence in those values. As an example, during last week’s large market selloff, our equity-based funds that typically have spreads in the 2-4 cent range still had those spreads even with broader market down more than 3%. Investors should feel confident trading them, even during days with significant market moves.

On the other hand, market uncertainty, such as the unexpected 50 basis point1 interest-rate cut by the Federal Reserve recently, can and usually does cause a temporary widening of spreads. Whenever there is pending or unexpected news, ETF market makers will have doubts as to the value of the underlying securities and will thus widen out their ETF spreads accordingly.

This is true of all ETFs (not just ours). Investors should consider avoiding trading ETFs during times of market uncertainty. It is typically short-lived, and once the market makers have had time to digest the news and how it might impact the underlying security valuations, spreads typically fall back in line with the norms.

We continue to monitor our funds at all times and will gladly send updates as needed as to our opinions of the best times to trade.

Important Legal Information

This material is intended to be of general interest only and should not be construed as individual investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy, sell or hold any security or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not constitute legal or tax advice.