Leveraged ETFs have recently returned to the news as Direxion announced the release of two new funds. As reported on Marketwatch.com, one of these new funds seeks to obtain returns equal to 300% of the two-year Treasury yield, while the other fund seeks to obtain returns equal to 300% of the inverse return of the two-year Treasury yield (in other words, when the Treasury yield declines, the investor profits).
Despite the repeated warnings issued by FINRA and the SEC as to the tremendous risk presented by leveraged ETFs, it appears that these fund families are forging “full steam ahead.” The announcement from Direxion comes only weeks after its rival, ProShares, released eight additional leveraged ETFs. Four of the new ProShares funds seek to obtain returns equal to 300% of the daily return of the Nasdaq 100, Dow Jones Industrial Average, Standard & Poors 400 Index, and the Russell 2000 Index. The other four funds seek returns equal to 300% of the inverse daily return of these same indices (again, investors in these funds profit when the value of the respective index declines).
Leveraged ETFs invest their shareholders’ money in futures and/or derivatives in order to multiply the daily return of an index. Some leveraged ETFs seek a return that is 200% or even 300% of the daily performance of the index. Inverse ETFs work in much the same way, except that these funds seek a return that is equal to 100%, 200%, or even 300% of the opposite of the daily performance of the index. With these funds, an investor actually profits when the index declines in value. Typical leveraged ETFs and inverse ETFs reset each day and therefore, over periods longer than one day, their performance can vary considerably from the index.
Leveraged ETFs may be appropriate investments for professional asset managers and highly sophisticated investors; however, in this author’s opinion, leveraged ETFs are inappropriate for the vast majority of individual investors. Given the level of volatility in the stock markets in recent times, leveraged ETFs expose investors to tremendous potential for loss in a short period of time. Furthermore, in various instances in the retail setting, leveraged ETFs have been sold to investors without full disclosures related to these risks.