Investing in What Appears to Be an Illiquid ETF

Many investors have shied away from exchange traded funds with low trading volumes, but do not let the perceived liquidity deter you from a potentially lucrative investment strategy.

Investors who are trading a stock would look at the average daily volume as a guide to how quickly and efficiently they are able to place a trade. If the security’s trading volume is low, large orders may be executed with large bid-ask spreads and affect the market price, diminishing the return of the overall investment.

On the other hand, large orders in ETFs with low trading volumes can still be executed with minimal costs, but investors will have to do a little extra work.

ETFs trade in two distinct markets: the secondary markets that everyone typically monitors on a stock exchange and the primary market where specific Authorized Participants help create and redeem ETF shares.

Everyone should be familiar with the secondary market as it refers to the on-screen, quotable market that we track through price changes on the stock exchange, similar to tracking a company’s stock.

However, ETFs are also traded on a primary market where APs and the ETF sponsor help create and redeem ETF shares for underlying securities or holdings, which occur at the net asset value of the ETF, through so-called in-kind transactions. Specifically, ETFs and other open-end funds are priced based on an underlying basket of assets, or net asset value.

Mutual funds calculate their fair value based on the NAV of the closing price in the underlying market. ETFs, which trade throughout the day like common stocks, will require a different set of indicative values to help reflect the shifting ETF prices throughout the day. The indicative value is an important indicator as it allows behind-the-scenes APs or market makers to arbitrage potential discrepancies between an ETF’s price and that of its underlying net asset value, so that the ETF will more-or-less reflect the value of its underlying basket of securities.