What Is an ETF of ETFs?

An ETF of ETFs is an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that itself tracks other ETFs rather than an underlying stock, bond, or index. Like a fund of funds, this approach provides investors with a method for investing in multiple strategies with a single product. It combines the cost and transparency advantages of the traditional ETF structure with the research and analysis of an actively managed fund.

Many well-established providers like Vanguard and Direxion have hopped on the ETF of ETFs bandwagon through new product offerings that combine different asset classes or rotate between sectors.

Key Takeaways

  • An ETF of ETFs is a pooled investment fund that invests in other ETFs.
  • Like traditional ETFs, these securities trade on exchanges similarly to traditional stocks.
  • The strategy aims to achieve broad diversification and minimal risk, while taking advantage of the lower cost and greater liquidity of ETFs.
  • ETFs of ETFs tend to have higher expense ratios than regular ETFs sue to the additional layer of management.
1:48

An Introduction To Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

How ETFs of ETFs Work

An ETF of ETFs is a type of security that provides more diversification than a regular ETF. They can be constructed by leveraging certain desirable factors such as various risk levels, time horizons, or industry sectors. As a result, these ETFs of ETFs can give an investor broader exposure to many sectors and asset classes. On average, traditional ETFs have lower fee structures than managed mutual fund tends that involve more research and analysis. An ETF of ETFs aims to strike a delicate balance between the two (lower cost and better research) and beat a standard benchmark index. 

The concept of an ETF of ETFs finds its roots in traditional target-date and other asset allocation funds that seek to provide simple investment solutions and follows the fund-of-funds (FoF) strategy seen in the mutual fund and hedge fund industry. An investment in a quality multi-strategy fund is appropriate for novice investors who lack the skill or resources to construct an attractive portfolio in the current environment.

The advantages don't end there. This novel approach affords investors instant diversification, low fees, and exposure to broad-based strategies across different asset classes. In the event of a downturn, In the event of a downturn, a well-diversified portfolio employing various strategies can help keep losses to a minimum.

Limitations of ETFs of ETFs

While many of the newest ETFs of ETFs claim to simplify investing, they often employ complex mechanisms that make it difficult to understand the various offerings in the fund. What's more, the products are often highly concentrated and tend to exhibit greater turnover than most actively managed funds. That means if the market turns against the fund, it could quickly become the largest holder of a thinly traded ETF. While cheaper than mutual funds of funds, ETFs of ETFs are also more expensive to own than traditional ETFs due to the added layer of management and fees.

A more straightforward – and cheaper – approach involves constructing a portfolio of individual stock and bond ETFs. Moreover, investors must rely on the skill of the portfolio manager to make critical asset allocation and tactically adjust the portfolio on a timely basis. Most empirical research finds a hands-off, buy and hold approach tends to outperform a stock picking strategy.