Physical ETF

Physical ETF

Potential ETF investors must decide, among other things, whether to put their money into funds that employ synthetic replication or physical replication. This article summarizes the two formats to help advisers make the best possible ETF selection selections for their clients. 

What is a Physical ETF? 

Physical ETFs hold an index’s fundamental components. Compared to other structures, these ETFs are usually more open and simple and have little to no counterparty risk. They provide insight into an index’s performance using three typical methods: optimisation, stratified sampling, and complete replication. 

Understanding Physical ETF 

By actually owning some or all of the underlying assets of an index, a physical ETF can mimic the index’s performance. In contrast, a synthetic exchange-traded fund (ETF) uses swap agreements to mimic the index’s performance. In most cases, this implies that synthetic ETFs hold a diversified portfolio of assets that have nothing to do with the underlying index. In a swap contract with a counterparty—typically an investment bank—they trade the index’s performance for that of this basket. 

Certain investors may be unconcerned about how an exchange-traded fund (ETF) attempts to replicate the index’s performance. That said, some people may have a strong preference. 

Fortunately, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are open about their replication practices; it is stated in the prospectus and package as to whether an ETF is physical or synthetic. 

Risk of Physical ETF 

The absence of adviser interaction about security lending in physically backed ETFs is perhaps the most shocking to us, considering the aversion to counterparty risk in synthetic ETFs. 

If a synthetic ETF uses a diversified panel of counterparties and is careful with collateral, the counterparty risk it bears when lending assets is virtually identical to that of a real ETF. 

Security lending has opportunities for both risk and reward, much like synthetic ETFs. 

Lending a position in securities is a common way for one party to cover a short position for another. In exchange, the other party will pay the agreed-upon rate and submit collateral. The supply and demand market forces determine the prevailing exchange rate for any security. For instance, a stock with a modest market cap and little trading volume can ask for a higher rate. Rates have dropped substantially since the financial crisis due to the decline in central bank rates, which are tied to general interest rates. While a high-yield bond can offer close to 1%, putting together a big blue-chip stock might only yield a few basis points. 

The counterparty risk is associated with the borrowers rather than the loaned assets themselves, even if returns per security do fluctuate. The additional return must be weighed against the (albeit little) counterparty risk before making a decision. 

Understanding the approach to securities lending is a crucial component of our due diligence process for choosing ETF providers. 

Benefits of Physical ETF 

By owning all of the underlying securities that make up the target index, or a representation of them, a physical ETF aims to mimic the performance of that index. A physical replication entails purchasing and selling the index’s components; this process is labour-intensive and, depending on the ETF’s quality, might be prone to tracking mistakes. 

When purchasing the underlying assets, the supplier has two options: acquire them entirely or create an optimal sample. A lot of people think there ought to be a separation between sampling and complete replication when it comes to physical ETFs. Full replication is often considered the gold standard among replication methods. On the other hand, full replication may not be beneficial to the portfolio in big global markets due to the high expense of carrying out all the transactions. Sampling helps cut down on these administrative expenses, but it could lead to more tracking errors as it doesn’t follow the entire index. Large, liquid markets are ideal for physical exchange-traded funds. 

Examples of Physical ETF 

Investors should think about ownership, monitoring expectations, asset class, and product complexity level when choosing an exchange-traded fund (ETF) based on a replication approach. Physical exchange-traded funds (ETFs) possess either all or part of the underlying securities of the index. Simultaneously, investors in synthetic ETFs just have the legal right to own reference baskets or underlying collateral pools, which could or might not coincide with their overall risk and return objectives. 


Among the many benefits of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are their low fees, transparency, and diversity. If you’re a passive investor trying to track a certain market index or theme, they might greatly complement your portfolio. 

You may easily include exchange-traded funds (ETFs) into your portfolio with the help of ICICI Bank’s platform, which offers access to a broad variety of ETFs. If you want to reach your financial objectives, whether you’re an experienced investor or just getting your feet wet, it’s a good idea to learn about exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and how they work. 

Since they provide a transparent and cost-effective means for investors to get exposure to a wide range of asset classes and market sectors, Exchange-Traded Funds (ETF) Mutual Funds have grown in popularity in India. If you know how they function, what elements to consider, and how they affect your taxes, you can make educated investment decisions that are in line with your financial goals. If you want to diversify your investments and maybe increase your profits, ETF mutual funds are a good option to consider. 

Frequently Asked Questions

While exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track physical assets hold those assets, synthetic ETFs engage in a swap arrangement with another entity that promises to pay out the index’s return (after costs) instead. 

Think about what the clients want to achieve with their investments before deciding between the two options. In general, physical ETFs carry less risk and are more readily available. While synthetic exchange-traded funds (ETFs) provide a wider range of assets and the possibility of larger returns, they also carry a higher degree of risk. 

First, consider the ETF’s past performance, the index it is based on, its structure, when and how you may trade it, and its cost. 

A physical exchange-traded fund (ETF) invests in all of the companies that make up the underlying index by the index’s weights. In other words, a physical ETF that follows the S&P 500 acquires all of the S&P 500’s equities. 


Easy intraday trading, relative transparency, and the possibility of tax efficiency—all at a lower total cost than most actively managed mutual funds—are just a few of the reasons why ETFs have become increasingly popular. 

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