Skip to Main Content

Single-stock ETFs: What to know about these risky new funds

Trader working on computer
Matej Kastelic/EyeEm/Getty Images
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for .

Investors in the U.S. now have access to single-stock exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that offer amplified and inverse returns on the daily performance of individual stocks. But the securities have caught the attention of experts and regulators, who warn that these new funds present significant risks for most investors.

Here’s what you need to know about single-stock ETFs and the risks they come with for investors.

What are single-stock ETFs?

Single-stock ETFs use derivatives to provide leveraged and inverse returns on individual stocks.

For example, say Tesla (TSLA) is reporting earnings and you’re particularly bullish or bearish on their results. You might buy the stock or short the stock to potentially profit off your views. But single-stock ETFs now allow you to magnify the potential return by aiming to double the stock’s daily return or provide double or 100 percent of the inverse return, bringing sophisticated trading vehicles into the hands of everyday investors.

“Single stock ETFs are highly speculative and intended to provide geared exposure to individual stocks,” says Bryan Armour, director of passive strategies research at Morningstar Research Services. “The stated amount of leverage or inverse exposure is reset daily, meaning these are short-term vehicles not intended to be held over long periods.”

AXS Investments has launched a handful of single-stock ETFs based on companies such as Nike (NKE), Tesla, Pfizer (PFE) and PayPal (PYPL). Other fund companies such as Direxion and GraniteShares also plan to launch similar funds.

The funds have been allowed to move forward thanks to a 2019 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) decision, allowing ETFs meeting certain criteria to come directly to market without first obtaining permission from the SEC.

Risks of single-stock ETFs

Single-stock ETFs present several risks for investors to be wary of including:

  • Returns on the fund over periods longer than one day may diverge significantly from the performance of the underlying stock because of daily rebalancing and the effects of compounding.
  • Since the funds are focused on just a single stock, investors won’t get the diversification benefits that are available through more traditional ETFs that hold stocks across different sectors of the economy.
  • The short holding period these funds are intended for (one day) mean they’re geared more towards traders, and not long-term investors.
  • Fees on single-stock ETFs can be meaningfully higher than the fees on traditional ETFs, such as an S&P 500 index fund.

“Because of the features of these products and their associated risks, it would likely be challenging for an investment professional to recommend such a product to a retail investor while also honoring his or her fiduciary obligations,” warned SEC Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw when the first single-stock ETFs were launched this month.

Rob McDougall, vice president of investment strategy at Zhang Financial, said the new funds aren’t likely to be a fit for typical investors.

“We would not consider these products for use in our wealth management practice,” McDougall said, instead preferring to hold mutual funds, ETFs or stocks for multi-year periods. “These levered and inverse ETF positions would need to be managed on a daily basis.”

Bottom line

In the end, single-stock ETFs are best used by sophisticated traders and investors who understand the risks involved. If you’re like most investors who are saving for long-term goals such as retirement, single-stock ETFs aren’t going to make sense in your portfolio. Instead, stick with diversified funds that track broad market indexes and keep costs low for investors.

Editorial Disclaimer: All investors are advised to conduct their own independent research into investment strategies before making an investment decision. In addition, investors are advised that past investment product performance is no guarantee of future price appreciation.

Written by
Brian Baker
Investing reporter
Bankrate reporter Brian Baker covers investing and retirement. He has previous experience as an industry analyst at an investment firm. Baker is passionate about helping people make sense of complicated financial topics so that they can plan for their financial futures.
Edited by
Managing editor