4 ETF Cost Factors To Weigh Beyond Expense Ratios

by: Tom Lydon

As providers fight over the ongoing price war in the race to see who can offer the cheapest exchange traded fund product, investors are jumping at the chance to cover broad markets at next to nothing prices. Still, you should not let cheap ETF fees blind you to other cost factors.

There are other factors to consider when calculating the overall cost of trading ETFs, writes John Wasik for Reuters. For instance, investors will have to take into account the bid/ask spread, underlying holdings, tracking error and commission fees.

Since ETFs are traded like stocks, investors will also have to look at the bid/ask spread, or the difference between the highest and lowest prices for buy and sell orders. As such, the tighter the spread, the better of the investor - wide spreads translates to a higher premium paid out, which adds to transaction costs.

ETFs track a basket of securities and the ETF will typically have a better bid/ask spreads if the underlying assets include large- or mega-cap stocks. With thinly traded small-caps, international stocks or other niche areas, the spreads begin to widen.

Additionally, ETFs are made to try to reflect the performance of an underlying index. If the ETF starts to veer away from the index, investors will taking an implicit cost to investing in the fund - Wasik notes that anything over 0.10 percent variation is a warning sign.

Lastly, the average retail investor will buy and sell ETFs through an exchange, which typically charges a commission fee. Needless to say, these transaction fees add up for the active day trader, but there are some brokerages that offer commission-free trades on select ETFs.

Max Chen contributed to this article.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.