PRMIA on ETFs #2 – How the ETF Market Works: Quant for the Traders
Next up in the event was Phil Mackintosh of Credit Suisse who gave his presentation on trading ETFs, starting with some scene-setting for the market. Phil said that the ETP market had expanded enormously since its start in 1993, currently with over $2trillion of assets ($1.3trillion in the US). He mentioned that $1 in $4 of flow in the US was ETF related, and that the US ETF market was larger than the whole of the Asian equity market, but again emphasizing relative size the US ETF market was much smaller than the US equities and futures markets.
He said that counter to the impression some have, the market is 52% institutional and only 48% retail. He mentioned that some macro hedge fund managers he speaks to manage all their business through ETPs. ETFs are available across all asset classes from alternatives, currencies, commodities, fixed income, international and domestic equities. Looking at fees, these tend to reside in the 0.1% to 1% bracket, with larger fees charged only for products that have specific characteristics and/or that are difficult to replicate.
Phil illustrated how funds have consistently flowed into ETFs over recent years, in contrast with the mutual funds industry, with around 25% in international equity and around 30% in fixed income. He said that corporate fixed income, low volatility equity indices and real estate ETFs were all on the up in terms of funds flow.
He said that ETF values were calculated every 15 seconds and oscillated around there NAV, with arbitrage activity keeping ETF prices in line with underlying prices. Phil said that spreads in ETFs could be tighter than in their underlyings and that ETF spreads tightened for ETFs over $200m.
Phil warned of a few traps in trading ETFs. He illustrated the trading volumes of ETFs during an average which showed that they tended to be traded in volume in the morning but not (late) afternoon (need enlightening as to why..). He added that they were more specifically not a trade for a market open or close. He said that large ETF trades sometimes caused NAV disconnects, and mentioned deviations around NAV due to underlying liquidity levels. He also said that contango can become a problem for VIX futures related products.
There were a few audience questions. One concerned how fixed income ETFs were the price discovery mechanism for some assets during the crisis given the liquidity and timeliness of the ETF relative to its underlyings. Another question concerned why the US ETF market was larger and more homogenous then in Europe. Phil said that Europe was not dominated by 3 providers as in the US, plus each nationality in Europe tended to have preferences for ETF products produced by each country. This was also further discussions on shorting Fixed Income ETFs since they were more liquid than the primary market. (Inote to self, need to find out more about the details of the ETF redemption and creation process).
Overall a great talk by a very "sharp" presenter (like a lot of good traders Phil seemed to understand the relationships in the market without needing to think about them too heavily).