Indexing. It’s what makes exchange-traded funds (ETFs) great. The ability to passively track various market segments, countries and even esoteric asset classes is what has helped them gain prominence within the investment community.
But ETFs aren’t just of hugging indexes. Sponsors have long used this fund type to get a bit more active. Although most of those products have fallen flat over the years, a new crop of active ETFs has continued to challenge the notion that passive is always better.
This week’s new ETFs further drive that idea. With a total of seven different active funds launching this week from a variety of sponsors, the active ETF pool is certainly getting wider. The hope is that the products are getting better as well.
|Ticker||Name||Issuer||ETFdb Category||Expense Ratio|
|(FCEF)||First Trust CEF Income Opportunity ETF||First Trust||Diversified Portfolio||2.50%|
|(MCEF)||First Trust Municipal CEF Income Opportunity ETF||First Trust||National Munis||1.91%|
|(OILK)||ProShares K‑1 Free Crude Oil Strategy ETF||ProShares||Commodities||0.65%|
|(DWAC)||Elkhorn Commodity Rotation Strategy ETF||Elkhorn Investments||Commodities||0.99%|
|(RCOM)||Elkhorn Fundamental Commodity Strategy ETF||Elkhorn Investments||Commodities||0.75%|
Elkhorn Hits Commodities
Elkhorn Investments isn’t exactly a household name, but founder Ben Fulton has been in the ETF industry since the beginning and has helped develop some of the biggest funds. At Elkhorn, he’s hoping to do the same by launching some products with unique capabilities; this week, that included the Elkhorn Commodity Rotation Strategy ETF (DWAC) and Elkhorn Fundamental Commodity Strategy ETF (RCOM).
Both bet on commodities via futures contracts and swaps. And both use superstar managers to accomplish their goals of outperformance: momentum superstars Dorsey, Wright & Associates for DWAC and smart-beta pioneer Research Affiliates for RCOM. But that’s where the similarities end.
DWAC will use momentum to build its portfolio. By using Dorsey, Wright’s screening process, the fund will look at 21 different commodity futures contracts –corn, wheat, crude oil, etc.– and pick the top five that have the ability to outperform in the given month. The ETF also utilizes an intelligent roll strategy to mitigate the potential negative impact of contango and collateralizes its position as a portfolio of short-duration bonds. If that strategy sounds familiar, it should. Dorsey has used this idea of betting on the “top five” of an asset class for numerous products now.
RCOM is a tad different. Using Research Affiliates’ multifaceted screening process, the fund will attempt to build a portfolio of the various hard assets that meet a variety of proprietary factors. In traditional RAFI form, that includes factors like value, growth, etc. The idea is to build a portfolio of commodity futures that should perform better than a static index. Like DWAC, RCOM uses an intelligent roll strategy and collateralizes its positions in short-term bonds.
In the end, both DWAC and RCOM hope to help investors outperform many broad-based commodity ETFs on the market. Expenses for the two funds run 0.99% and 0.75%, respectively.
ProShares Says No To The K-1
One of the problems with many commodity ETFs is that they have traditionally been structured as commodity pools or partnerships. That means investors are hit with a dreaded K-1 statement come tax time. In fact, based on rolling futures, even if you have a loss on the shares, you could still get hit with a tax bill on gains. With that in mind, investors hate the K-1 when it comes to commodity ETFs. The newest batch of funds invest in an offshore subsidiary that then owns the futures; with that, investors are able to own commodities via indirect/direct exposure.
For that reason, the ProShares K‑1 Free Crude Oil Strategy ETF (OILK) is the first ETF to use this feature to bet on crude oil futures. OILK will use active management to bet on U.S. benchmarked West Texas Intermediate crude oil. As an active fund, the ETF’s offshore subsidiary will actively roll its futures strategy to mitigate the effects of contango. Contango is one of the main reasons for losses in some of the traditional index commodity products.
The real beauty is that investors won’t receive a K-1 statement come tax time. Expenses for OILK run 0.65%
First Trust Buys CEFs
Fund manager First Trust is quickly becoming a major force in ETFs–active or otherwise. But it’s also a major player in the world of closed-end funds (CEFs). These funds are sort of like a combination of ETFs and traditional mutual funds. They feature active management, but trade on an exchange with a fixed number of shares. Using its expertise in CEFs, First Trust has launched two new ETFs that bet directly on these securities.
The First Trust CEF Income Opportunity ETF (FCEF) will comb the entire world of CEFS and include equities, government debt, high yield bonds, international stocks, etc. in its portfolio. Managers will look for fund trading at discounts to increase their net asset values and offer high dividends. The First Trust Municipal CEF Income Opportunity ETF (MCEF) will only focus its attention on municipal bond CEFs. Munis are one of the largest categories of CEFs out there.
In the end, both MCEF and FCEF will allow investors the opportunity to gain some high income and have an expert to help navigate the world of CEFs.
The Bottom Line
This week’s ETF launches were all about getting active. New improvement to products will only help cement actives’ position among the very passive world of ETFs. The new funds launching this week certainly help on that front.