Why the SEC should look at levered ETFs

By Felix Salmon
April 30, 2011
TBT, the ProShares UltraShort 20+ Year US Treasury fund, is an ETF which returns double the daily decline in an index linked to long-dated government bonds.

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TBT, the ProShares UltraShort 20+ Year US Treasury fund, is an ETF which returns double the daily decline in an index linked to long-dated government bonds. There are 173 million shares of TBT outstanding, which at a price of $35.65 apiece, means that more than $6 billion is tied up in TBT shares. But average daily volume is just 10.7 million shares — which means that the overwhelming majority of TBT shares are not traded on any given day.

The helpful bloggers at Symmetric Info have explained in great detail — here’s Part 1 and Part 2 — why this is bonkers. But suffice to say that no one should ever hold a leveraged ETF overnight. These things are intraday trading vehicles; they’re not medium-term or even short-term investments.

Given how many people are clearly Doing It Wrong when it comes to TBT, I think there’s a strong case for the SEC to step in here and take a very hard look at TBT in particular, and levered ETFs in general. If day-traders want to day-trade using ETFs, that’s fine — and they can bring their own leverage, if they’re so inclined. But ETFs with embedded leverage are clearly being bought by people who aren’t day-traders at all, and who have no business buying these securities. It’s the SEC’s job to protect those people. It should get on the case.

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