ETRACS 2x Leveraged ETN Snapshot, November 2018: HOML Rollercoaster
- MORL/MRRL are the highest-yielding 2x ETNs, followed by SMHD and CEFL.
- 3-month LIBOR increased by 17 bps this month, and 2x ETN expense ratios continue to break new highs.
- HOML has gone on a roller-coaster in terms of its share price.
- This idea was discussed in more depth with members of my private investing community, CEF/ETF Income Laboratory. Get started today »
Fund additions, closures, or notable adjustments
On October 9, 2018, UBS announced suspension of further sales of ETRACS Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Small Cap High Dividend ETN (SMHD).
On November 9, 2018, UBS announced the launch of the ETRACS Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged US Small Cap High Dividend ETN Series B (NYSEARCA:SMHB).
In September, UBS launched the ETRACS Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Preferred Stock ETN (PFFL). I missed the launch at the time and intend to cover this issue in a separate piece in the near future. Also, this ETN will be included in next month's ETN Snapshot.
|Fund||Ticker||Inception||Assets / m||Volume / k||Yield||TER||Adjusted TER||1x fund|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged S&P Dividend ETN||(SDYL)||5/2012||16.6||1.1||5.71%||0.70%||1.64%||(SDY)|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Dow Jones Select Dividend Index ETN||(DVYL)||5/2012||42.6||3.5||7.97%||0.75%||1.67%||(DVY)|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged US High Dividend Low Volatility ETN||(HDLV)||9/2014||16.9||5.6||11.92%||1.45%||2.02%|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged US Small Cap High Dividend ETN||(SMHD)||3/2015||59.6||42.0||21.78%||1.65%||2.12%|
|Monthly Reset 2xLeveraged ISE Exclusively Homebuilders ETN||(NYSEARCA:HOML)||3/2015||3.0||0.5||0.00%||1.65%||2.12%|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Wells Fargo MLP Ex-Energy ETN||(LMLP)||6/2014||26.7||17.6||15.23%||1.45%||2.02%|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged MSCI US REIT Index ETN||(LRET)||5/2015||5.5||1.9||8.96%||1.65%||2.12%||(VNQ)|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Mortgage REIT ETN||(MORL)||10/2012||445.5||284.2||22.04%||0.80%||1.69%||(MORT)|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Mortgage REIT ETN Series B||(MRRL)||10/2015||57.7||30.5||22.04%||0.80%||1.69%||(MORT)|
|2xMonthly Leveraged Alerian MLP Infrastructure Index ETN Series B||(MLPQ)||2/2016||76.2||48.0||17.79%||1.65%||2.12%||(MLPI) (AMLP)|
|2xMonthly Leveraged S&P MLP Index ETN Series B||(MLPZ)||2/2016||30.8||0.9||12.91%||1.95%||2.27%||(IMLP)|
|2xLeveraged Long Wells Fargo Business Development Company Index ETN||(BDCL)||5/2011||220.7||130.1||17.39%||0.85%||1.72%||(BDCS)|
|2xLeveraged Long Wells Fargo Business Development Company Index ETN Series B||(LBDC)||10/2015||5.9||1.3||17.39%||0.85%||1.72%||(BDCS)|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Closed-End Fund ETN||(CEFL)||12/2013||233.50||147.1||20.05%||0.90%||1.74%||(YYY)|
|Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Diversified High Income ETN||(DVHL)||11/2013||20.9||7.0||15.29%||1.25%||1.92%|
Assets and volume
The chart below shows the assets under management and the average volume for all of the 2x ETNs. We can see that MORL is still the largest of the 2x ETNs, followed by CEFL and BDCL. MORL, CEFL and BDCL are also the three most actively-traded ETNs.
(Source: Stanford Chemist, Morningstar)
Note that several of the ETNs are thinly traded. For those illiquid ETNs, it is recommended to use limit orders to ensure that the transaction is executed at an acceptable price. Moreover, it is highly recommended to check the indicative price of an ETN, available on the UBS ETRACS website (e.g. here for CEFL), before buying or selling the low-volume ETNs. This is because financial websites or brokers often quote the last-traded price, which can deviate significantly from the NAV (technically, "indicative value" for the ETNs) for the thinly traded ETNs.
One of the major attractions of the 2x leveraged ETNs is their often mouth-wateringly high yields. The yields (trailing 12 months) of the funds are displayed graphically below, arranged in order of smallest to largest. Note that HOMX is a total return fund, and hence pays zero distributions. MORL/MRRL lead with 22.0% yield, followed by SMHD at 21.8% and CEFL at 20.1%. All of the ETNs pay monthly except for BDCL/LBDC, MLPQ and MLPZ which pay quarterly (and except for HOMX which pays no distributions at all).
(Source: Stanford Chemist, Morningstar)
Dividend growth rate
Investors might be interested in whether or not the 2x ETNs have been able to grow their distributions. The following chart shows the 1-year DGR and 3-year (annualized) DGR for the 2x ETNs, where available. Note that these are calendar year DGRs and therefore only show data where full years are available, for example, the 1-year DGR represents the distribution increase from 2016 to 2017, while the 3-year DGR represents the distribution increase from 2014 to 2017.
With another year under our belt, four more 2x ETNs that were incepted during 2015 now have two full calendar years (2016 and 2017) of distribution history: SMHD, LRET, LBDC and MRRL. HOML was also incepted in 2015, but since it is a total return ETN, distribution growth rate is not applicable.
We can see from the data below that 11 out of 12 leveraged ETNs for which data have been available have managed to increase their distributions from 2016 to 2017. LMLP showed the largest 1-year DGR increase (+32%), followed by SMHD (+26%) and DVYL (+20%). The only 2x ETN that decreased their distribution in 2017 was CEFL, which reduced payout by -12% (as predicted at the start of 2017 in "CEFL/YYY Investors Face Imminent 12% Distribution Cut").
In terms of 3-year DGR (from 2014 to 2017), data are now available for CEFL and DVHL, as both were incepted during 2013. Here, SDYL and DVHL have the highest 3-year DGRs of +15% and +10% respectively. CEFL had the lowest 3-year DGR of -16%, while DVHL, BDCL and MORL also had negative 3-year DGR numbers.
(Source: Stanford Chemist, Morningstar)
It should be remembered that the distributions of the 2x ETNs are not only affected by the yield of the underlying holdings, but also changes in price of the ETNs. This is because the ETNs are 2x leveraged. Hence, increases in the price of the ETNs will boost their distributions, and vice versa. See this Lance Brofman article for a detailed explanation.
Regarding the expense ratios, UBS engages in the (rather dubious, in my opinion) practice of hiding their financing spread within their pricing supplement, which makes their headline management fee (known as "tracking rate") look lower. For example, SDYL has an annual tracking rate of 0.30%, a figure that is displayed prominently on the fund's website, but you have to dig into the pricing supplement to see that you are being charged an additional 0.40% in financing spread. This means that the total financing rate will be 0.40% + 3-month LIBOR (currently 2.58%). Adding all three fees together gives a total expense ratio [TER] of 0.30% (tracking rate) + 0.40% (financing spread) + 2.58% (3-month LIBOR) = 3.28%.
However, remember that these ETNs are 2x leveraged. Thus, I devised an "adjusted TER" that takes into account both the current LIBOR rate, and the leverage of the fund, which can be achieved by simply dividing the total expense ratio (including LIBOR) by 2. I believe that this value is more useful when one is trying to compare the expense ratio of the 2x ETNs versus unleveraged funds. In fact, with some of the adjusted TERs being lower than the expense ratios for unleveraged 1x funds, it might be able to juice your portfolio by up to nearly 1% a year by synthetically replicating a 1x position (as described in Build Your Own Leveraged ETF (ETRACS Edition)).
The following chart shows the expense ratio (excluding LIBOR) and the adjusted TER of the funds, arranged from lowest to highest. MLPZ has the highest expense ratio (excluding LIBOR) of 1.95%, and its adjusted TER comes out to 2.27%. SDYL has the lowest expense ratio (excluding LIBOR) of 0.70%, and its adjusted TER comes out to 1.64%.
(Source: Stanford Chemist, Morningstar)
The 3-month LIBOR rate has broken clear of the trading range that it was in over the past several months. It increased by about 17 bps last month to 2.59%, making the 2x ETNs more expensive to own than ever since their inception.
Position within 52-week trading range
I also calculated the position of the stock price of each 2x ETN as a function of their 52-week trading range which is a metric I have found to be quite useful when making buy or sell decisions. As a value investor, I am more inclined to buy a stock when its price is close to its 52-week low. Conversely, I am reluctant to buy stocks when their prices are close to their 52-week highs (of course, momentum investors will disagree).
In the below chart, 0% on the x-axis indicates the midpoint of the 52-week trading range. The -50% position indicates the 52-week low while +50% indicates the 52-week high. Note that some of these values may be unreliable due to the low liquidity of some of the ETNs.
We can see from the chart above that nearly all of the 2 ETNs have moved lower within their 52-week range, with the exception of CEFL that has rebounded slightly over the past month. Only 3 out of the 15 2x ETNs are trading above the mid-point of their 52-week trading range.
The following chart shows the recent performance of the suite of 2x ETNs, in terms of total return [TR]. 1-year, 3-year and 5-year TR values are given were available, with time periods longer than 1 year being annualized. The figures on the chart show the 1 year total return percentages.
(Source: Stanford Chemist, Morningstar)
We can see from the chart above that there is a large variation between the 1-year TR performances of the 2x ETNs. SDYL (18%) and SMHD (14%) are the top 2x leveraged ETNs. The worst ETN by 1-year return is HOML (-45%).
As an aside, it's been quite ride for HOML over the past couple of years. Since bottoming below $15 in early 2016, HOML more than quadrupled (!) in price over the next 2 years. However, weakness with homebuilders caused the note to lose over half its value again in 2018, and it now trades at $25.40, very close to its inception price of $25. Based on the chart, HOML is a very nice candidate for trend following strategies.
Reminder about Series B ETNs
In October 2015, UBS launched six new "Series B" ETNs, four of which were 2x leveraged (MLPQ, MLPZ, MRRL, LBDC). The main difference between the original "Series A" ETNs and the Series B ETNs is that the former are co-guaranteed by both UBS AG and UBS Switzerland AG, whereas the newer the latter are guaranteed by UBS AG only. In theory, this should make the Series B ETNs less valuable than the Series A, since the former are solely guaranteed by UBS AG. However, it is hard to imagine a scenario where UBS AG goes under and its subsidiary, UBS Switzerland AG (and by extension the Series A notes) remains unscathed.
In the same announcement, UBS also stated that they do not intend to issue any new notes in any of its existing Series A ETNs. While this could in theory make those ETNs "broken products", a few simple guidelines could help prevent investors from going astray. First, this "does not affect the terms of the outstanding Series A ETRACS ETNs... including the right of noteholders to require UBS AG to redeem their notes on the terms", meaning that if the ETNs were to deviate significantly below their NAV, large players could buy the notes on the open market and have UBS redeem them (the minimum number of shares for redemption is 50,000) at their NAV. This arbitrage potential should act as a driving force to push the price of the ETN back up towards its NAV.
On the other hand, if the notes were to deviate significantly above their NAV (say >10%), then... what are you waiting for? Sell the notes right now on the open market and buy them back later when the price falls back to its NAV. This also serves to remind that one should always check the indicative value of the ETNs on the UBS ETRACS website before buying any fund. To my knowledge, despite UBS announcing suspension of issuance of new Series A ETN shares, none of the ETNs have ever traded significantly above (>10% ) their NAV for any sustained period time. This could be because UBS still has a reservoir of "Previously Issued But Unsold Notes Available for UBS Securities LLC to Sell" for each ETN, allowing supply to match demand until the reservoir becomes fully exhausted.
Reminder on leverage
An interesting feature of the ETRACS 2x leveraged ETNs is that their leverage resets monthly rather than daily, which is the norm for most leveraged funds in the market. It is well known that decay or slippage in leveraged funds will occur when the underlying index is volatile with no net change over a period of time. By resetting monthly rather than daily, the decay of the ETRACS ETNs might be somewhat mitigated.
Seeking Alpha author Dane Van Domelen has conducted both theoretical and empirical research into the performance of leveraged funds. His research showed that in most cases, the decay is not as serious as is often initially thought to be. My own research on the live performance of the 2x ETNs showed that monthly resetting has generally helped rather than hurt performance.
Moreover, the 2x ETNs charge a finance cost (3-month LIBOR plus a variable financing spread) to maintain their 2x leverage. Due to prevailing low interest rates, the finance charge is currently relatively low, but this could change when/if interest rates rise in the future. Still, the financing rates charged to these ETNs are still much lower than what the majority of retail investors would be able to access from their brokers. This means that from an expense ratio point of view, it would usually be better to buy the leveraged fund than to try and replicate it yourself with a margin loan from your broker.
Reminder on ETN structure
It should be noted that investors in the 2x ETNs are subject to credit risk from the fund sponsor, in this case UBS. If UBS were to go bankrupt, the ETNs will likely become worthless. Professor Lance Brofman has argued that the risk of ETN investors losing money due to UBS going bankrupt is, barring an overnight collapse, minimal because the notes can always be redeemed (the minimum number of shares for redemption is 50,000) at NAV.
Moreover, since ETNs are debt instruments, their distributions are considered as coupon payments rather than as dividends. Distributions from ETNs are therefore treated as interest tax-wise and subjected to the ordinary income tax rate.
We’re currently offering a limited time only free trial for the CEF/ETF Income Laboratory with a 20% discount for first-time subscribers. Members receive an early look at all public content together with exclusive and actionable commentary on specific funds. We also offer managed closed-end fund (CEF) and exchange-traded fund (ETF) portfolios targeting ~8% yield. The sale has been EXTENDED for 1 more week only, so please consider joining us by clicking on the following link: CEF/ETF Income Laboratory.
This article was written by
CEF/ETF Income Laboratory is a premium newsletter on Seeking Alpha that is focused on researching profitable income and arbitrage ideas with closed-end funds (CEFs) and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). We manage model safe and reliable 8%-yielding fund portfolios that have beaten the market in order to make income investing easy for you. Check us out to see why one subscriber calls us a "one-stop shop for CEF research.”
Click here to learn more about how we can help your income investing!
The CEF/ETF Income Laboratory is a top-ranked newsletter service that boasts a community of over 1000 serious income investors dedicated to sharing the best CEF and ETF ideas and strategies.
Our team includes:
1) Stanford Chemist: I am a scientific researcher by training who has taken up a passionate interest in investing. I provide fresh, agenda-free insight and analysis that you won't find on Wall Street! My ultimate goal is to provide analysis, research and evidence-based ways of generating profitable investing outcomes with CEFs and ETFs. My guiding philosophy is to help teach members not "what to think", but "how to think".
2) Nick Ackerman: Nick is a former Financial Advisor and has previously qualified for holding Series 7 and Series 66 licenses. These licenses also specifically qualified him for the role of Registered Investment Adviser (RIA), i.e., he was registered as a fiduciary and could manage assets for a fee and give advice. Since then he has continued with his passion for investing through writing for Seeking Alpha, providing his knowledge, opinions, and insights of the investing world. His specific focus is on closed-end funds as an attractive way to achieve income as well as general financial planning strategies towards achieving one’s long term financial goals.
3) Juan de la Hoz: Juan has previously worked as a fixed income trader, financial analyst, operations analyst, and economics professor in Canada and Colombia. He has hands-on experience analyzing, trading, and negotiating fixed-income securities, including bonds, money markets, and interbank trade financing, across markets and currencies. He is the "ETF Expert" of the CEF/ETF Income Laboratory, and enjoys researching strategies for income investors to increase their returns while lowering risk.
4) Dividend Seeker: Dividend Seeker began investing, as well as his career in Financial Services, in 2008, at the height of the market crash. This experience gave him a lot of perspective in a short period of time, and has helped shape his investment strategy today. He follows the markets passionately, investing mostly in sector ETFs, fixed-income CEFs, gold, and municipal bonds. He has worked in the Insurance industry in Funds Management, helping to direct conservative investments for claims reserves. After a few years, he moved in to the Banking industry, where he worked as a junior equity and currency analyst. Most recently, he took on an Audit role, supervising BSA/AML Compliance teams for one of the largest banks in the world. He has both a Bachelors and MBA in Finance. He is the "Macro Expert" of the CEF/ETF Income Laboratory.
Analyst’s Disclosure: I am/we are long BDCl, HDLV. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Author's note: All data is as of November 9, 2018 (when this report was initially released to members) so numbers may be out of date. Please check latest data before making investment decisions.
Seeking Alpha's Disclosure: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. Any views or opinions expressed above may not reflect those of Seeking Alpha as a whole. Seeking Alpha is not a licensed securities dealer, broker or US investment adviser or investment bank. Our analysts are third party authors that include both professional investors and individual investors who may not be licensed or certified by any institute or regulatory body.