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2023-01-15 1:16 PM

The difference between an ETF and a Unit Trust in South Africa

By Shephard Dube

A unit trust and an ETF, or exchange-traded fund, are both types of investment vehicles that allow individuals to invest in a diversified portfolio of securities such as stocks or bonds. However, investors should be aware of several key differences between the two.

In this article, we will look at the key differences between ETFs and unit trusts, as well as provide examples of popular South African options. In addition, we will go over the formulas and strategies that are used for each type of investment vehicle.

One of the primary distinctions between ETFs and unit trusts is the manner in which they are traded. ETFs, like individual stocks, are traded on a stock exchange. This means that their prices change throughout the day based on supply and demand, and investors can buy and sell them just like stocks.

Unit trusts, on the other hand, are not traded on a stock exchange and their prices are determined at the end of the day based on the underlying securities’ net asset value (NAV). This means that investors can only buy or redeem units at the NAV price at the end of the day.

Another distinction is the manner in which they are managed. ETFs are typically passively managed, which means they seek to replicate the performance of a specific index, such as the S&P 500. This is accomplished by holding a portfolio of securities that closely resemble the index being tracked.

Because passive management is less labor-intensive, ETFs typically have lower management fees than actively managed funds. The formula for passive management is straightforward: the ETF holds the same securities as the index it is tracking in the same proportion, which is referred to as replicating the index.

Unit trusts, on the other hand, are frequently actively managed, which means that a fund manager selects the underlying securities and makes portfolio adjustments as needed. This strategy has the potential to generate higher returns, but it also has higher management fees.

The formula for active management is more complicated; the fund manager selects securities for the portfolio using various strategies. Value investing, growth investing, and momentum investing are some common strategies.

Value investing is a strategy in which the fund manager seeks undervalued companies with strong fundamentals, growth investing is a strategy in which the fund manager seeks companies with high growth potential, and momentum investing is a strategy in which the fund manager seeks companies that have recently performed well.

The cost structure is a third significant difference. Because ETFs are passively managed and thus require less labour to manage, they typically have lower management fees than unit trusts. ETFs may also have lower expense ratios because they do not have to pay the salaries and benefits of a team of fund managers. It is important to note, however, that ETFs have trading costs, such as brokerage fees, that investors must consider when buying and selling on a stock exchange.

Unit trusts, on the other hand, are frequently actively managed, which means that a fund manager selects the underlying securities and makes portfolio adjustments as needed. This strategy has the potential to generate higher returns, but it also has higher management fees.

The formula for active management is more complicated; the fund manager selects securities for the portfolio using various strategies. Value investing, growth investing, and momentum investing are some common strategies.

Value investing is a strategy in which the fund manager seeks undervalued companies with strong fundamentals, growth investing is a strategy in which the fund manager seeks companies with high growth potential, and momentum investing is a strategy in which the fund manager seeks companies that have recently performed well.

The Republic of South Africa Examples: Investors in South Africa can choose from a variety of ETFs and unit trusts. The Satrix 40 ETF, which tracks the performance of the top 40 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and the NewFunds S&P GIVI ETF, which tracks the performance of the S&P Global Infrastructure and Energy index, are two popular ETFs in South Africa. These ETFs offer investors a low-cost and convenient way to gain exposure to a diverse set of companies without requiring extensive research or analysis.

The Coronation Top 20 Fund, which invests in the top 20 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and the Allan Gray Equity Fund, which invests in a diversified portfolio of equities, are two popular unit trusts in South Africa.

Because these unit trusts are actively managed, they necessitate a greater level of research and analysis. They are also associated with higher management fees. For example, the Coronation Top 20 Fund may employ a value investing strategy in which the fund manager seeks out undervalued companies with strong fundamentals among the top 20 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

The Allan Gray Equity Fund, on the other hand, may employ a mix of value and growth investing strategies, in which the fund manager searches for companies with both strong fundamentals and high growth potential among a diverse portfolio of equities.

To summarize, ETFs and unit trusts are both investment vehicles that allow individuals to invest in a diverse portfolio of securities, but they differ significantly in terms of how they are traded, managed, and priced. Before deciding whether to invest in an ETF or a unit trust in South Africa, investors should carefully consider their investment objectives and risk tolerance.

Conclusion

ETFs provide a convenient and low-cost way to gain exposure to a diverse set of securities, whereas unit trusts provide the potential for higher returns through active management. Before making a decision, weigh the pros and cons, as well as the formulas and strategies employed. Before making any investment decisions, it’s also a good idea to consult with a financial advisor.

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Shephard Dube

Shephard Dube is the Co-Founder of Rateweb. He is a web software developer with a passion for personal finance, economics, stock market, blockchain and cryptocurrencies. He spends most of his time figuring out how organizations and governments can make the environment conducive for business owners and consumers. He can be contacted on: shephard@rateweb.co.za