DEFINITION of 'Synthetic ETF'

An investment that mimics the behavior of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) through the use of derivatives such as swaps. Proponents of synthetic ETFS say they do a more accurate job of tracking indexes; critics say that synthetic ETFs face counterparty risk, are not transparent and may mislead investors. Other variations on the plain vanilla ETF include currency ETFs, inverse ETFs, international ETFs, leveraged ETFs and ultra ETFs.

BREAKING DOWN 'Synthetic ETF'

Synthetic ETFs are common on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, which differentiates them from traditional ETFs by placing an "X" in front of their names. The country's financial regulators, concerned about whether investors are financially sophisticated enough to understand the different characteristics and risk profiles of synthetic ETFs, have subjected synthetic ETFs to greater scrutiny and imposed additional requirements on the institutions that issue them. Synthetic ETFs have faced similar issues in European markets.

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