A basic guide to ETF’s

By Randell Tiongson on July 15th, 2015

ETFI’ve said before that I pray that more Filipinos become moderate investors, even if most of them are conservative now. A good way to become a moderate investor is by educating yourself on the different investment instruments, and distributing your investments across them.

One investment instrument that gets a lot of attention is “pooled funds”, in which you join a “pool” of other investors, and a fund manager handles the whole pool of money depending on the objectives of the fund. Mutual funds and UITFs fall under this category.

But there’s a relatively recent addition to this category: ETFs, or exchange traded funds. ETFs became available in the US in 1993, Europe in 1999, and the Philippines in 2013. While there are many types of ETFs available in more advanced markets, they haven’t made a big splash here yet. I’ve been getting a few questions about ETFs, so I’ve put together a basic guide here so you can learn more about them.

What are ETFs?

An exchange traded fund is an investment fund that’s traded like a stock. There are lots of kinds of ETFs; some of them track foreign stock market indices, specific sectors like energy or oil, or commodities.

But the most basic type of ETF simply tracks a benchmark index to match its performance. So if an equity index ETF is tracking the Philippine Stock Exchange index, its underlying securities would consist of stocks like Ayala Land, SM Investments Corporation, PLDT, BPI, and so on, much like an equity mutual fund or UITF.

In short, think of an ETF as a mutual fund that you can buy and sell on the stock market. And because ETFs are traded like common stocks, they don’t have a NAVpu or NAVps like UITFs or mutual funds; their share prices change throughout the day as the market trades.

Basically, you get the diversification of a mutual fund with the flexibility of stock trading combined in an ETF.

What are the pros and cons of ETFs?


  • Cheaper diversification. Buying into just one ETF gives you exposure to a whole group of equities, meaning you don’t have to buy each individual stock yourself. So for a small amount of money, you can have a diversified portfolio. Anybody who can buy the minimum board lot can therefore participate in the growth of the Philippine economy. And ETFs are transparent about their structure; you can just visit their site and see the underlying securities that make up the fund (and in what percentage).
  • Can cost less than actively managed funds. Mutual funds charge management fees of around 2%. UITFs can have trust fees of 0.20% to 1.50% per year. With buying and selling stocks, your costs will be lower. This is because an ETF is passively managed, meaning you’re not paying a fund manager for his services; you’re just paying brokerage fees.
    • Here’s an example to make things clearer. If you invest Php 50,000 in a UITF, you’d pay up to P750 (1.50%) in fees. (There may also be fees for early redemption.) Compare that to the total trading costs of buying Php 50,000 worth of an ETF on the PSE, which is P147, and P397.50 when selling. These small differences add up to a lot, so ETFs can be cheaper cost-wise in the long run.


  • Can’t beat the market. Because an ETF is designed to track an index, its aim is not to beat it, but just to match it. So if you were looking for investments to beat the PSE, you’d be better off with actively managed funds that seek to beat the index. You’re well diversified when you buy into an ETF, but remember: diversification limits your losses, but it also limits your gains.
  • Can cost more than other pooled funds. If you like to invest small amounts regularly, like Php 10,000 each month, you’ll get charged for every transaction when you buy into an ETF. If small, regular investment is your strategy, you may be better off with a mutual fund or UITF that doesn’t charge you transaction fees each time, which can reduce your returns.

What options are available to the Filipino wanting to invest in ETFs?

Unfortunately, you don’t have a lot of choice in the Philippine market yet. So far, the only ETF here is the First Metro First Metro Philippine Equity Exchange-Traded Fund (First Metro ETF), an equity index ETF which started in December 2013. Other banks such as BPI and BDO have expressed an interest in launching their own ETFs, but they are still considering tax rules and regulations, as well as market appetites, before they do so.

Are ETFs for you?

The answer really depends on your investment goals and risk tolerance. If you can’t tolerate volatility with your money, equity-based ETFs may not be for you. But if you have an eye on the long-term and can take the risk, consider including ETFs in your investment plan. ETFs are still pretty new to the Philippines, so keep an eye out for more ETF options in the future.

I hope this guide has given you the basics about this new asset class that you can add to your portfolio. But before you jump in, remember this quotation from Warren Buffett: “Never test the depth of river with both feet.” Educate yourself on the risks, and you’ll make the best decisions with your investments.

Always remember to invest according to your investment objectives, time frame, risk tolerance and don’t forget to diversify properly.



3 thoughts on “A basic guide to ETF’s”

  • How and where we can invest in ETFs?
    I think I need to try this to diversify considering most of my investments are in UITF and variables.

  • Which is cheaper? Cost averaging FMETF through COL or cost averaging Philequity PSE Index Fund through COL?

  • Hi! You said that it would cost more if you invest 10,000 per month than a 1 time 50,000 in ETF. How is that possible? If I invested 10,000 for 5 months, I think that the transaction costs will just be the same with a 1 time 50,000. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

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A basic guide to ETF’s