Perhaps you’ve seen the hype. Dressed up as “news” stories and industry insights in otherwise reputable media outlets and blogs, the true facts behind this new ETF contradict the headlines.
A mash-up of the many headlines I observed this week might read “The First Free ETF Finally Arrives” or otherwise suggest this is the first ETF to ever have a 0% expense ratio. Closer inspection reveals the new ETF will have an expense ratio of 0.29%. That is not the definition of free. Additionally, there are about 300 ETFs listed for trading in the U.S.with lower expense ratios.
Even if it were to have a 0% expense ratio, which it doesn’t, it wouldn’t be the first. Want an example? Check out the iShares Treasury Floating Rate ETF (TFLO). Its website shows an expense ratio of 0.00%. That is much closer to free than 0.29%. Granted, TFLO’s zero expenses are due to a 0.15% waiver, but the math still works.
Old Mutual was the first firm to launch a free ETF for U.S. investors. Its GlobalShares FTSE Emerging Markets Fund (GSR) came to market December 8, 2009 with a 0.00% expense ratio. Five years ago probably makes this one first.
The Cambria Global Asset Allocation ETF (GAA) launches today (12/10/14). It is a passively managed Fund-of-Funds with an expense ratio of 0.29%. The expense ratio is based on a 0.00% management fee and acquired fund fees of 0.29%. However, about 9% of GAA’s holdings will consist of other Cambria ETFs that have management fees of 0.59%, resulting in an indirect management fee of about 0.05%.
GAA may indeed be an innovative approach to ETF investing and could become a very successful product. However, this is not an article about GAA. It’s a warning to investors to read beyond the headlines before investing in any product.
Disclosure covering writer, editor, and publisher: No positions in any of the securities mentioned. No positions in any of the companies or ETF sponsors mentioned. No income, revenue, or other compensation (either directly or indirectly) received from, or on behalf of, any of the companies or ETF sponsors mentioned.