Traded like a stock with diversified exposure of a fund

Understand how ETFs can offer diversified exposure to a range of equities and be easily traded like stocks.

What are Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)?

An ETF is an investment fund listed and traded on the stock exchange. It is usually made up of assets linked by a similar investment profile. It aims to produce returns that reflect the performance of a specific benchmark index or its underlying assets.

Many ETFs track an index such as a stock, bond or commodity index. Their prices can fluctuate with demand and supply throughout the day. They may be adjusted from time to time to reflect the latest composition of assets that make up the index.

Types of ETFs

These may be further sub-classified into Developed Markets ETFs, Emerging Markets ETFs and industry ETFs.

For example, both the SPDR STI ETF and Nikko AM STI ETF track the STI and give exposure to Singapore’s 30 largest companies listed on the Singapore Exchange.

These identify one or more investment themes, then build a quantitative model for the asset selection and have stocks in that index re-weighted according to the model.

These allow investment in bonds at a scale and cost typically enjoyed by institutional investors only.

These invest in physical commodities such as agricultural goods, natural resources and precious metals.

Ways to earn returns

  • Like stocks, ETFs can generate returns from capital gain, i.e. when the price of an ETF unit rises above the purchase price.
  • Investors may also be paid dividends from the underlying stocks, which are collected by the fund manager and either distributed to investors on a quarterly or semi-annually basis. ETF managers will determine if dividends are better utilized re-invested or distributed as income to investors. It is important to note that not all ETFs pay dividends.

Benefits and risks


Cost effective

ETFs require lower cash outlay than buying individual stocks to build a similar portfolio as an index. As most ETFs are passively managed, the fees and charges are generally lower than actively managed funds.


ETFs allow you to spread your risks across various stocks and markets, lowering risk exposure and volatility.

Access to blue-chip stocks and foreign markets

ETFs that track indices such as the STI and S&P 500 allow you to invest in blue-chip stocks and gain exposure to foreign markets.

Ease of trading

Buying an ETF is as simple as buying a listed stock.


Market risk

Adverse market condition can affect the price of the underlying stock components, reducing the value of the ETF.

Tracking error

The fund manager may not be able to perfectly replicate the performance of the index which the ETF tracks.

Foreign exchange rates risk

ETFs priced in a foreign currency are exposed to fluctuations in foreign exchange rates. This can potentially increase or erode returns.

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