Exchange-traded funds (or ETFs) are open-ended collective investment schemes, traded as shares on most global stock exchanges. Typically, ETFs try to replicate a stock market index such as the S&P 500 or Hang Seng Index, a market sector such as energy or technology, or a commodity such as gold or petroleum.

The legal structure and makeup varies around the world, however the major common features include:

  • An exchange listing and ability to trade continually;
  • They are index-linked rather than actively managed;
  • The ability to handle contributions and redemptions on an in-kind basis (typically in large blocks of shares only); and
  • Their 'value' (but not necessarily the price at which they trade—they can trade at a 'premium' or 'discount' to the 'underlying' assets' value) derives from the value of the 'underlying' assets comprising the fund.

These qualities provide ETFs with some significant advantages compared with traditional open-ended collective investments. The ETF structure allows for a diversified, low cost, low turnover index investment. This appeals to both institutional and retail investors both for long term holding and for selling short and hedging strategies.

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