ETFs – a simple and cost-effective way to access the stock market

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs), along with other passive investments, are becoming more popular with South African investors. First launched in SA in 2000, they’ve gained traction in recent years as investors become more cost-conscious as a result of muted market returns over the past few years.

The local market

In markets such as the US, ETFs still make up a much larger portion of the funds invested than they do in SA. This means local investors could be missing out on a cost-effective way to gain overall market exposure.

The argument still exists that developed markets such as the US are more efficient when it comes to pricing, in other words, that share prices have taken into account all factors, present and future, that may affect them. Some believe this pricing mechanism is less efficient in developing markets, such as SA. This explains the tendency to stick with actively managed funds where managers are able to take advantage of any opportunities the market presents.

What exactly is an ETF?

ETFs are similar to unit trusts, but they’re listed on the stock exchange and typically track a specific index – although commodity ETFs are also available. Because they’re listed on an exchange, the price changes throughout the day (as opposed to a unit trust, which has daily pricing) and investors can buy and sell their ETFs throughout the day.

While it may be difficult for a novice investor to select individual shares, any investor can get started by investing in an index (made up of all the shares listed on that index) and will receive the market return, known as beta, minus a cost.

Main benefits of investing via an ETF

  • Tend to have lower costs than actively managed unit trust investments – although passive unit trusts are also available
  • Highly regulated
  • Investors gain exposure to a number of shares in the index via a single investment, without having to research and invest in each single share
  • Depending on the index chosen, investors gain access to offshore markets via the JSE
  • Transparent, as investors can readily see the underlying companies that make up the index
  • When investing via the Glacier platform, any dividends received are automatically reinvested to further enhance investment growth.

Well regulated

In South Africa, ETFs (as well as unit trusts) are governed by the Collective Investment Schemes Control Act (CISCA). Both ETFs and unit trust funds are monitored by independent trustees and are regulated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA).

Suited to all investors

According to Dean de Nysschen, Research and Investment Analyst at Glacier by Sanlam, ETFs have a place in both novice and experienced investors’ portfolios. Before investing in a particular index – as with any other investment – investors should take into account their time horizon, as well as ability and capacity to take on risk. ETFs, like unit trusts, will experience volatility in line with market movements. Investors should be prepared to invest for at least five years, possibly even seven to 10 years, to see and enjoy real growth.

‘Some ETFs, for example, those investing in high dividend-yielding companies, are better suited to providing income, whereas other ETFs are more suited to growing capital,’ he says. ‘Due to the increasing number of ETFs available, as well as the introduction of smart beta funds that aim to outperform the index, investors need to carefully consider which index to invest in, aligned with their needs and goals.’

Investors can combine ETFs with actively managed funds for optimal performance across their overall portfolio.

Glacier recommends that investors obtain advice from a qualified financial planner before investing.

ETFs available on the Glacier platform

Earlier this year, Glacier partnered with Satrix, the second-largest provider of passive investments in SA, to make a limited range of ETFs available directly on the Glacier platform. ETFs available include the Satrix Top 40 ETF for local market exposure, and for offshore exposure, investors can select from Satrix’s rand-denominated MSCI World, MSCI Emerging Markets, S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 ETFs.

‘Investors can now invest in ETFs alongside unit trusts, simplifying access to these investment options,’ says Roenica Tyson, Investment Product Manager at Glacier. ‘These cost-effective opportunities are available within retirement and discretionary savings portfolios, allowing investors to diversify portfolios and reduce overall cost.’

Download ETF FAQ document

Listen to ETF podcast

Dean de Nysschen – Research and Investment Analyst

Roenica Tyson – Investment Product Manager