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Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) – what opportunities do they provide

The rise of ETFs

The Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) industry in South Africa has gained popularity in recent years, with the total market capitalisation of the entire South African ETF industry, increasing from R165.4 billion at the end of 2023to R178.2 billion at the end of the Q1 of 2024, representing a rise of 7.7% in the first quarter of 2024.

Over the last five years, there has also been a rise in the number of ETFs issued, from 137 in 2020 to 214 in 2024, as fund managers realise the value in using passive strategies alongside their stock picking ability to improve diversification and access investment themes and trends that will shape the investment landscape and be able to capture these structural shifts.

What is an ETF?

An ETF is a listed investment product on the JSE that tracks the performance of a specific index such as the JSE All Share Index (ALSI) or the The FTSE/JSE All Bond Index (ALBI). It is a passive investment strategy in the sense that the fund manager is not making any strategic asset allocationsbut rather buying “the market” as the index the fund manager investing in is a benchmark to how the market is performing.
ETFs are a low-cost way for investors to diversify their portfolio different across different sectors, asset classes, or geographies, all in a single investment product. Being listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), they are easily traded and well-regulated by both the JSE and the Financial Services Conduct Authority (FSCA).

Over the last decade, ETFs have been largely invested in directly by retail investors, but there has been a mindset shift of late with more financial advisors including passive strategies into their clients’ investment portfolios. We expect this trend to continue and gain traction as ETFs become more available on wealth management platforms commonly used by financial advisors, with various investment strategies and asset classes being able to be wrapped into an ETF-type investment product.


Another type of Exchange Traded Product is an Actively Managed ETF (AMETF). This is a listed investment product that offers exposure to a Collective Investment Scheme (CIS) portfolio managed by a fund manager with an an active investment strategy.


The difference with a AMETF is that the fund manager actively uses their skill and research capabilities to adjust the portfolio based on market conditions and their investment strategy, with the view a generating returns above the benchmark index (alpha).

Both ETF types (passive and active) have their pros and cons, which investors need to understand before investing in the type that best suits the return expectation. While passive ETFs are a great way to replicate market returns over an exptended period of time, AMETFs aslo provide a great opportunity to deviate from the standard market returns.

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