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What Is the Difference Between an ETF and a Mutual Fund?

2023-06-21  Maliyah Mah

Mutual Fund vs. ETF: An Overview

Mutual Fund-1

Both exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds share many of the same characteristics. Both types of funds consist of a diverse assortment of assets and offer investors a common opportunity to diversify their holdings through investment. Although exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds share many similarities, there are important distinctions between the two types of investments. The fact that exchange-traded funds (ETFs) can be bought and sold throughout the trading day, similar to stocks, is one of the most significant distinctions between them and mutual funds, which can only be acquired at the close of each trading day at a price determined by the fund's net asset value.

The first ever mutual fund was established in 1924, giving mutual funds almost exactly the same amount of time they've spent in their current iteration. The SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) was the first exchange-traded fund (ETF) to be introduced into the market in January 1993. Exchange-traded funds are considered to be relatively new players in the investment industry.

ETFs were mainly passively managed and tracked market indices or specialised sector indices, whereas the vast majority of mutual funds were actively managed in previous years. This means that fund managers were responsible for making decisions regarding how assets should be allocated inside the fund. This distinction has gotten increasingly muddled over the past several years due to the fact that passive index funds now constitute a sizeable amount of the assets under management of mutual funds, yet investors now have access to a wider variety of actively managed ETFs than ever before.


  • Active management of mutual funds was the norm in years gone by; this involved fund managers making frequent purchases and sales of individual securities held by the fund in an effort to outperform the market and generate higher returns for investors. In more recent times, however, investors have shown a greater preference for passively managed index funds.
  • On the other hand, while the vast majority of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are managed in a passive manner because they typically follow a market index or sector sub-index, the number of actively managed ETFs continues to increase.
  • The fact that exchange-traded funds (ETFs) can be bought and sold in the same manner as stocks is one of the most significant differences between ETFs and mutual funds. Mutual funds, on the other hand, can only be purchased at the close of each trading day.
  • Because of the greater operational costs associated with active management, actively managed mutual funds typically charge higher fees and have expense ratios that are also higher than those associated with ETFs.
  • Open-ended mutual funds allow trade between investors and the fund itself, and the number of shares that are available to purchase is virtually unbounded. Closed-end mutual funds, on the other hand, only issue a predetermined number of shares regardless of how many are purchased by investors.

Mutual Funds


ETFs often have lower entry barriers for investors compared to mutual funds, which typically have greater barriers. These minimums are subject to change based on the type of fund and the organisation. As an illustration, the initial deposit for the Vanguard 500 Index Investor Fund Admiral Shares is required to be a minimum of $3,000, whereas the initial deposit for the Growth Fund of America that is made available by American Funds is only $250.

A large number of mutual funds are actively managed, which means that the fund manager or team managing the fund makes choices on the purchase and sale of stocks and other securities held by the fund. This is done with the goal of outperforming the market and helping investors make a profit. These funds typically have a higher expense ratio due to the significantly increased amount of time, effort, and labour required for research and analysis of the underlying stocks.

Direct transactions between investors and the fund itself constitute the buying and selling of shares of mutual funds. When the net asset value (NAV) of the fund is calculated at the end of each trading day, that is when the price of the fund will be established.

There are two categories of mutual funds.

There are two distinct categories under the law that mutual funds can fall into:

Open-Ended Funds. These funds have a commanding presence in the market for mutual funds, both in terms of volume and assets under administration. When it comes to open-ended funds, the transaction of buying and selling fund shares happens directly between the investors and the fund company. There is no cap placed on the total number of shares that can be issued by the fund. As a result, additional shares are distributed whenever new shareholders purchase positions in the fund. Marking to market is the name of the daily valuation procedure that is mandated by federal rules. This process results in an adjustment to the per-share price of the fund so that it accurately reflects any changes in the value of the fund's portfolio (assets). There is no correlation between the total number of outstanding shares and the value of an individual shareholder's holdings.

Funds with No Opportunity to Invest New Money. These funds will only distribute a predetermined number of shares and will not issue additional shares even if there is an increased demand from investors. Prices are not established based on the net asset value (NAV) of the fund; rather, they are established based on the demand from investors. When purchasing shares, it is common practise to pay a premium or a discount relative to the NAV.


Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)


An entrance position in an ETF may cost significantly less, amounting to as little as the price of one share, in addition to any fees or commissions. An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is formed or redeemed in big lots by institutional investors, and the shares of an ETF move amongst investors throughout the day in the same manner as stocks. ETFs, similar to stocks, are able to be shorted in the market. Long-term investors have very little interest in these provisions, while traders and speculators find them to be very significant. However, due to the fact that ETFs are regularly valued by the market, there is a possibility that trading may take place at a price that is different from the genuine NAV. This may result in the creation of an opportunity for arbitrage.

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Investors can benefit from the tax efficiency of ETFs. ETFs and index funds, both of which are examples of passively managed portfolios, typically generate lower levels of capital gains than actively managed mutual funds.


The Accumulation and Withdrawal of ETFs


ETFs are distinguished from other investment vehicles by the procedure through which they are created and redeemed, which also affords them a variety of advantages. Creating an exchange-traded fund (ETF) includes purchasing all of the underlying securities that make up the ETF and then combining them into the structure of an ETF. The process of redemption entails "unbundling" the exchange-traded fund back into its component individual units.

In the main market, the process of creating and redeeming ETF shares takes place between the ETF sponsor (the ETF issuer and fund manager that administers and markets the ETF) and authorised participants (APs), who are US-registered broker-dealers who have the right to generate and redeem shares of an ETF. The ETF issuer and fund management that administers and markets the ETF is known as the "ETF sponsor." The APs are responsible for putting the individual securities that are part of the ETF into the appropriate weight categories and then delivering those securities to the ETF sponsor.

For instance, in order to construct ETF shares for an S&P 500 ETF, the APs would need to collect all of the stocks that make up the S&P 500 index, organise them according to their relative weights in the index, and then submit the compiled list to the ETF sponsor. After that, the ETF sponsor places these securities inside of the ETF wrapper and then sends the ETF shares out to the APs. The formation of shares in an ETF typically occurs in big batches, typically 50,000 at a time. After then, the new ETF shares are posted for trading on the secondary market, which is analogous to stock trading on an exchange.

The procedure for an ETF redemption is exactly the opposite of that of an ETF creation. In the secondary market, authorised participants (APs) collect ETF shares that are referred to as redemption units and then deliver them to the ETF sponsor in return for the underlying securities of the ETF.


ETF Benefits

Due to the one-of-a-kind procedure by which ETFs are created and redeemed, the prices of ETFs tend to closely mirror their respective net asset values. This is because the APs closely monitor the demand for an ETF and move quickly to decrease any major premiums or discounts to the ETF's NAV.

Because of the process of formation and redemption, the fund management of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) does not have to buy or sell the underlying securities of the ETF, with the exception of when the ETF portfolio needs to be rebalanced. Because an exchange-traded fund (ETF) redemption is considered a "in kind" transaction because it includes the exchange of ETF shares for the underlying securities, it is often excluded from taxes, which results in ETFs having greater tax efficiency.

Therefore, while the process of generating and redeeming shares of a mutual fund can potentially generate capital gains tax penalties for all shareholders of the mutual fund, the likelihood of this happening for shareholders of an ETF who are not exchanging shares is very lower. It is important to keep in mind that the shareholder of an ETF is still responsible for paying capital gains tax when the shares of the ETF are sold; however, the investor can choose when such a sale takes place.


3 ETF Organizational Structures


ETFs can be structured in one of three ways:

Exchange-Traded Open-End Fund: The great majority of ETFs are open-end management firms that are registered with the SEC as open-end management companies under the Investment Company Act of 1940.
5 The structure of this ETF must adhere to certain diversification rules; for instance, the portfolio may not have more than 5% of its assets invested in the securities of a single stock.

When opposed to the form of a unit investment trust, this structure provides greater flexibility in terms of portfolio management thanks to the fact that it is not needed to fully replicate an index. As a result, a number of open-end exchange traded funds (ETFs) use optimisation or sampling algorithms to duplicate an index and match its characteristics. This is done rather than owning each and every component securities that makes up the index. It is also permissible for open-end funds, up until the point at which distributions are issued to shareholders, to reinvest dividends earned in the purchase of further securities. Loaning of securities is permitted, and derivatives are a viable investment option within the fund.

(UIT) stands for "Exchange-Traded Unit Investment Trust." Exchange-traded unit investment trusts are likewise subject to the regulations of the Investment Company Act of 1940; however, in order to comply with these regulations, exchange-traded UITs are required to make every effort to fully replicate their respective indexes, restrict the amount of money that can be invested in a single issue to no more than 25% of total assets, and establish extra weighting limitations for diversified and non-diversified funds.

8 The initial exchange-traded funds, such as the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, were organised as UITs when they were 

originally introduced. Dividends from UITs are paid out in cash on a quarterly basis rather than being automatically reinvested.

5 They are not permitted to engage in the lending of securities or have derivatives in their accounts.

The QQQQ and the Dow DIAMONDS (DIA) both serve as excellent illustrations of this structure.
A grantor trust that is traded on a stock exchange. This is the most popular organisational model for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that invest in commodities. These exchange-traded funds are organised in the form of grantor trusts, which are compliant with the Securities Act of 1933 but are exempt from the requirements of the Investment Company Act of 1940. However, unlike closed-ended funds, investors in this type of exchange-traded fund (ETF) really hold the underlying shares of the companies in which the ETF invests. This ETF shows a significant resemblance to closed-ended funds. This includes the ability to exercise the voting rights that come with becoming a shareholder. However, the fund will always have the same make-up in terms of its components. Instead of being put back into the company, dividends are distributed directly to shareholders. Investors are required to trade in lots of 100 shares each. One example of this kind of exchange-traded fund is called a holding company depository receipt, or HOLDR for short.

10 Mutual Fund vs. ETF Redemption Example

Take, for instance, the case of a standard Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500) fund investor who withdraws $50,000 from the fund. In order for the fund to make the payment to the investor, it must first sell stock worth $50,000. If an investor decides to sell appreciated equities in order to free up cash for themselves, the fund will take advantage of the capital gain and distribute it to shareholders just before the end of the fiscal year.

As a direct consequence of this, shareholders are responsible for paying the taxes imposed on the fund's overall turnover. If a shareholder of an ETF seeks to redeem $50,000, the ETF will not sell any of the stocks in its portfolio to satisfy the shareholder's request. Instead, it provides its shareholders with "in-kind redemptions," which reduces the likelihood that they will have to pay capital gains taxes.
Which Is the Better Way to Invest in the Market: Mutual Funds or Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)?
The fact that an exchange-traded fund (ETF) has intra-day liquidity is the primary distinction between a mutual fund and an ETF. Therefore, if the ability to trade just like a stock is a crucial factor for you to consider, the exchange-traded fund (ETF) might be the best option.

Are ETFs Riskier Than Mutual Funds?

Although exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds (MFs), which in all other respects adhere to the same investment strategy or track the same index, are built somewhat differently, there is no rational basis for believing that one type of investment is intrinsically riskier than the other. It is not the structure of the investment itself that determines how risky a fund is; rather, it is the holdings of the fund itself.

Is There a Difference in the Fees Charged by Index ETFs and Mutual Funds When Using the Same Passive Strategy?

In many instances, the difference between the fees charged now is negligible. For instance, the expense ratio for some of the largest and most well-known S&P 500 ETFs is 0.03% of the fund's total assets. The cost ratio for the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO) is 0.03%, while the expense ratio for the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFIAX) is 0.04%. Both funds are offered by Vanguard.

Does an ETF Make Dividend Payments?

The answer is yes; a number of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will, in fact, make dividend distributions depending on the dividend payments made by the companies that the fund owns.


Have Index Funds Gained More Investor Favorites during the Past Few Years?

Either a mutual fund or an exchange-traded fund (ETF) can be used to create index funds, which are investments that mirror the performance of a market index. The total net assets held by these two categories of index funds have increased to a combined total of $12.5 trillion in 2021, up from $9.9 trillion in 2020. At the end of the year 2021, index mutual funds and index ETFs accounted for a combined 43% of the assets held by long-term funds. This is a significant increase from the 21% share they had a decade earlier.

2023-06-21  Maliyah Mah