Most Dangerous ETFs
- The strategy: In theory, UNG and United States Oil are "purer" plays on oil and natural gas prices than other ETFs like iShares Dow Jones US Oil & Gas Exploration (IEO) and Energy SPDR (XLE) that track equities. While UNG is designed to reflect natural gas prices, it tracks the near-month futures contracts for natural gas, not the spot price. This methodology inherently causes the fund to deviate from its objective, a problem that USO has also encountered.
- Creation confusion: The price of an ETF should reflect the underlying value, or NAV, of the fund. Unlike closed end funds or mutual funds, ETFs achieve their tracking objectives by the creation and redemption of shares. Regulatory limits caused UNG's creation process to grind to a halt back in July. As fund managers waited for the SEC to approve more shares, UNG began trading at a massive premium to its underlying value.
- UNG's future: After a summer of premiums, the SEC has approved additional UNG shares, and the fund managers will begin issuing new shares on Sept. 28. As UNG is once again allowed to operate as designed, the creation of new shares should cause the fund to once again trade in line with its underlying value. This shift should eliminate the premium and pop the UNG bubble.
- The strategy: DTO tracks a basket of futures contracts and employs leverage to achieve its strategy. Futures are inherently volatile and leverage adds volatility, so DTO can be one wild ride. Since DTO is structured as an ETN, rather than an ETF, it is also exposed to the credit risk of its issuer. In an era where once-solid banks have crumbled, credit risk is more of a concern than ever before.
- Bad genetics: When DTO was originally released, it was paired with the PowerShares DB Crude Oil Double Long ETN (DXO). On Sept. 9, DXO was shut down by its managers because the fund's size had triggered regulatory limitations. While DTO has yet to achieve the popularity of its former pair, investors in this fund should be wary of a potential shut-down.
- Regulatory smackdown: As regulators home in on ETFs like UNG and DTO that use derivative contracts to achieve their objectives, DTO could face double the regulatory restrictions in the months to come. Increased position limits, or restrictions on the number of futures contracts a fund can own, would affect both UNG and DTO and impact their creation process.