Thursday 17 May 2007

ETF Screeners, Tools and Primers

Since I have been spending huge amounts of time researching Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) in preparation for a complete re-structuring of my investments based almost completely on ETFs, it might be of interest for me to relate what I have found of use on the Internet.

ETF Primers, FAQs and Portfolio Principles:
  • Wikipedia's ETF Entry - summary explanation of ETFs; lists of providers and exchanges around the world where ETFs are available; lots of links
  • Efficient Market Canada's Example ETF Portfolio - Martin Gale explains how a Canadian can build a simple global portfolio using ETFs
  • ETFs vs Index Mutual Funds and ETF vs Open-End Fund Shootout (Wm Bernstein) - pros and cons of each
  • IFA Canada - lots of high-quality educational material as well as sample portfolios for this company that sells low cost funds, but the principles are the same.
  • Altruist Financial Advisors - links to more complicated and technical references on ETFs (and many other investing topics) under the Reading Room tab
  • Bogleheads Forum - fans of John Bogle, Vanguard Fund founder; lots of links to ETF and other investing material in the Reference Library, plus opportunity to ask questions of investing junkies who generally believe in low cost passive investing
  • Seeking Alpha - extensive information on all aspects of ETFs, from basics, investment strategy, asset allocation resources and tools, indexes with many links, all of it annotated
  • Financial Webring - Canadian investors, including those who write the most and have published some excellent resources; permanent section on funds and ETFs; good place for discussion and to ask questions
ETF Screeners and Comparison Data:
  • - Canadian, US and UK-traded ETFs in one place; useful categories / asset classes for portfolio building; ETF names are written out, not abbreviated; ticker symbols always visible to avoid confusion; ETF investment objective and reference index but little else - links to provider / sponsor websites for details; links to multiple quote websites like Yahoo, Bloomberg, Google, MSN Money; doesn't include all ETFs e.g. missing REITs like ICF, IYR; no side-by-side comparisons, portfolios or other fancy stuff but I found it to be very useful for preliminary identification of candidate ETFs because the site is so simple and quick and includes US and Canadian ETFs together
  • (engine for Wall Street Journal and - US ETFs only; Quickscreener tool has useful asset classes; includes Management Expense Ratio (MER), Net Assets, Performance, Turnover, Top Ten holdings, Sector breakdown in one compact, easy-to-read page but is missing Geographical breakdown for international funds and Number of Holdings; no links to Providers; fund names are abbreviated making some difficult to understand; no portfolio tool
  • engine for Investors Business Daily) and - US, UK and Canadian sites for each of those countries' ETFs and mutual funds; very sophisticated and complete but consequently complex and slow to use; important things are buried several clicks down, like ticker symbols, holdings, sector and geographical details; enables creation of a portfolio, which can then be characterized using the X-Ray tool to show sector and geographical dispersion, expected returns and other very useful stats to judge whether a proposed portfolio will be well diversified. Very cool! But it only works for the funds within that country so Canadian investors like me who want/need to use US funds to diversify properly cannot see the whole portfolio analyzed. It's still very handy and unique.
  • - US ETFs only; you need to register (it's free) to get access to the database and screener; same complete coverage of 498 US ETFs plus articles and commentary, discussion forum; the screener has a lot of variables one can choose but there are a lot of pre-set ones ticked having to do with performance so it is necessary to do a lot of un-clicking then re-clicking to select the factors one needs; the MER is one screen and it has a good increment of 0.25%; US investors have it easy since mutual funds and ETFs can be screened at the same time or separately; names of funds are somewhat abbreviated but not too badly and the ticker can always be made to appear; there are no market quotes, no links to provider websites and no sectoral of geographical breakdown of fund holdings, no total number of holdings within a fund, no portfolio capability.
  • - Canadian ETFs along with mutual funds and it is hard to tell them apart from the way the data is presented and certainly the entry link doesn't mention ETFs. Nowhere, for instance, is the ticker symbol XSP shown for the ETF iShares S&P 500 C$ on this data page; it is possible to filter using MER, though the increment is only 0.50%; it is difficult to tell apart actively managed from passive funds, a matter of interest to me; the website is generally slow to respond; there are performance figures, sector and geographic weighting charts, though the latter doesn't work properly for the iShares EAFE ETF that is based on the US-traded ticker: EFA and so is marked as 100% US though it is everywhere but there underneath.
  • Financial Post / National Post - Canadian mutual funds with the few domestic ETFs, though the website label doesn't say anything about ETFs ... oops, the Claymore Investments range isn't included; a lot less data than the other sites; with so little ETF choice in Canada it would be imperative to include them.
  • - the most popular Canadian-traded ETFs with lots of useful data and explanations
  • Vanguard and - US websites of low cost US-traded ETFs that will likely attract most Canadian and UK (those who can trade on US exchanges) investors with a bent for passive index investing; good places to get the details on funds to round out the diversification objectives with other asset classes; Vanguard has a neat tool that lets you compare side-by-side any of its ETFs with another of any other company, e.g. for a European holding should it be VGK or IEV or EZU - Vanguard's tool provides more data than some of the big specialized websites above.
Happy research everyone. If anyone has other suggestions for sources, let me know.


Anonymous said...

Great post.

I'm going to be rebuilding my portfolio soon using ETFs as well so I'll be watching to see what you do with your portfolio.

CanadianInvestor said...

I've been working hard at re-designing my portfolio and am almost ready to start posting. As I go through each stage in the process, I am going back to revise a few things in the previous stage. It's somewhat an iterative process. My latest conundrum is allocating across the four accounts (open, RRSP, LIRA1 and LIRA2) so that simultaneously, re-balancing is not too complicated or too costly, and that tax is minimized.

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