The primary driver of returns for buffered outcome ETFs will simply be the returns of the underlying asset, in most cases the S&P 500. What matters, however, is the direction and the scale and of the returns.
Assuming that the buffered ETF is utilizing a simple put-spread collar trade, the following could be expected:
The risks to most buffered ETFs lie in the extremes.
The former is an opportunity cost and the latter is a very real risk to capital.
In addition, it should be noted that the specific returns advertised by these products are almost never realized given that those returns rely on investment on a specific date and holding the investment through expiration (e.g., one year). Investors who join after the launch or leave the series before the end of the period may receive far different returns. The structured returns are only there for investors who invest on a particular date and then stay the entire time.
As mentioned previously, a vast number of variations of buffered products have been released over the last few years. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On a positive note, there are variants of the buffered ETFs to fit just about any risk profile, from very conservative to very aggressive. If an investor has a specific buffer in mind, odds are that someone has an ETF to match.
On the downside, this means the investor must really do their due diligence and understand the trade-offs between upside potential and downside risks before investing in a particular strategy. Also, as all the “basic” variations of buffered outcome strategies have been released, many ETF companies are developing the next generation of buffered ETFs that might be more exotic than a basic put-spread collar. These variations might have risks that differ significantly from a basic put-spread collar and might impact an investor portfolio in unexpected ways.
Swan Global Investments manages many different types of hedged equity and options-based strategies. In addition, Swan has partnered with Pacer ETFs to provide investors with a family of buffered outcome ETFs. Swan has been managing its proprietary hedged equity strategy called the Defined Risk Strategy since its inception in 1997.
The Defined Risk Strategy shares a few similarities with buffered outcome ETFs, as they are both hedged equity solutions that offer some market upside combined with downside risk mitigation.
However, the primary difference is the Defined Risk Strategy is actively managed whereas buffered outcome ETFs are passively managed. Buffered products are “set it and forget it,” where once a year the put-spread collar trade is established. There is no recourse for the manager to adjust positions in these strategies to minimize losses or take advantage of market conditions without violating the implicit contract represented by the structured/buffered outcome value proposition. If the market blows through either the call strike price (to the upside) or the put strike price (to the downside) a buffered ETF will not take any action.
Alternatively, Swan’s Defined Risk Strategy (DRS) actively manages the re-hedging of the portfolio.
In summary, Swan’s Defined Risk Strategy is actively managed and is designed for full market cycles using a disciplined process to address some of the weaknesses of traditional hedged equity option strategies and capitalize on large market declines.
Marc Odo, CFA®, FRM®, CAIA®, CIPM®, FDP®, CFP®, Client Portfolio Manager, is responsible for helping clients and prospects gain a detailed understanding of Swan’s Defined Risk Strategy, including how it fits into an overall investment strategy. His responsibilities also include producing most of Swan’s thought leadership content. Formerly Marc was the Director of Research for 11 years at Zephyr Associates.
Swan Global Investments is an SEC registered Investment Advisor that specializes in managing money using the proprietary Defined Risk Strategy (DRS). Please note that registration of the Advisor does not imply a certain level of skill or training. All investments involve the risk of potential investment losses as well as the potential for investment gains. Prior performance is no guarantee of future results and there can be no assurance that future performance will be comparable to past performance. This communication is informational only and is not a solicitation or investment advice. Further information may be obtained by contacting the company directly at970-382-8901 or www.swanglobalinvestments.com. 217-SGI-090121