Ben Johnson, CFA, is director of global ETF research at Morningstar Inc., Chicago, which tracks 620,000 investment offerings. Morningstar.com
If you’re a fan of actively managed mutual funds but wish they had the lower fees, tax efficiency and convenience of increasingly popular exchange-traded funds (ETFs), the big brokerages may have a solution. Brokerages including Fidelity and T. Rowe Price have begun offering ETFs with portfolios similar to or the same as those of attractive existing mutual funds.
How these new ETFs work: Most traditional ETFs use a passive strategy, closely tracking indexes such as the S&P 500. That’s because the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had required ETFs to provide portfolio transparency, revealing their holdings to the public on a daily basis. That meant managers of actively managed stock mutual funds rarely launched new ETFs or offered ETF versions of their funds because they didn’t want to reveal what moves they were making each day. However, the SEC has approved a new type of ETF that can use actively managed strategies but has to disclose portfolio holdings only monthly or quarterly. It’s called a “non-transparent” ETF.
What that means for investors: You now can get access to some of the top stock-picking managers through an ETF. As of October, there were 18 non-transparent ETFs, and many of them are near clones of attractive mutual funds but with lower fees. Examples: American Century Focused Dynamic Growth ETF (FDG), with an expense ratio of 0.45% vs. 0.85%…Fidelity Blue Chip Growth ETF (FBCG), 0.59% vs. 0.8%…T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth ETF (TCHP), 0.57% vs. 0.69%…and T. Rowe Price Dividend Growth ETF (TDVG), 0.5% vs. 0.62%.
Important: The SEC doesn’t allow non-transparent ETFs, which focus mostly on large-cap stocks, to invest in riskier investments such as foreign stocks or private equity, so their holdings may not exactly match their mutual fund counterparts.