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ETFs 101

Breaking Down Securities Lending Benefits to ETF Investors

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The rapid adoption of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) over the last two and a half decades has been an incredible phenomenon. With a wide-range of ETFs available, picking an ETF that will meet investment goals requires in-depth analysis. Generally, ETF due diligence focuses on the expense ratio, portfolio composition, performance, AUM and average daily trading volume. Although these are key considerations, an ETF’s securities lending program can be a key differentiator. Despite potential benefits for investors, namely an additional revenue stream, securities lending is often overlooked as an important element of the due diligence process.

Article Summary:

  • What is securities lending
  • How does securities lending work
  • What are the benefits to ETF investors
  • Review of securities lending regulation
  • What are the potential risks of securities lending

What is Securities Lending?

In order for an investor to short a stock, they need to borrow it from a current shareholder. ETFs make good candidates for securities lending given that they tend to have a portfolio of large positions that are liquid. The individual stocks within an ETF are shorted through an intermediary called a securities lending agent (often the ETF’s custodian). The lending agent negotiates terms and arranges the loan with counterparties on behalf of the ETF.

In securities lending the lending yield (how much it costs to borrow securities) is driven by demand. The more market demand there is to borrow a stock, the more an investor is willing to pay. Similarly, the less demand, the lower the lending yield. A common misconception is that short sellers are investors who believe a stock will fall. This is not necessarily the case. Options market makers use securities lending as a tool to hedge their options position as do ETF market makers who have to hedge their ETF positions. When an ETF lends a stock, they receive collateral in exchange. The value of the collateral changes based on the stock price of the borrowed securities. If the stock goes up, the borrower will have to deliver more collateral and vice versa. This allows the ETF’s value to track the value of the underlying stock even though the borrower is holding it.

Benefits of Securities Lending for Investors

The benefit of ETFs that utilize securities lending is an additional income stream. The income earned from securities lending is usually redistributed on a daily, monthly or quarterly basis and is reflected in the ETF share price. Securities lending tends to increase when an ETF’s underlying asset class is out favor. From a strictly GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) standpoint, securities lending income is classified as its own line item of investment income and is not used to directly offset management fees on an income statement. However, within the ETF industry, it is common practice to view ETF ownership as a balance sheet, juxtaposing securities lending income against fund management fees. Viewed this way, securities lending income may improve the cost of ETF ownership, compared to the same strategy without securities lending. While securities lending revenue can vary day to day, an investor can find the management fee and historic data on securities lending income in an ETFs’ semi-annual and annual reports.

To give an example from KraneShares Semi-Annual Report from September 30, 2018 KWEB’s securities lending income was $3,252,945 and securities lending fees totaled $322,258.  KraneShares management fee during this time period was $4,967,547. After deducting lending fees from the lending income, the total lending income ($2,930,687) offsets almost 60% of management fees.

Regulation

The SEC determines the rules governing securities lending for ETFs. The maximum percentage of the portfolio that can be lent out is one third¹. The SEC also regulates the amount of collateral received and what can be used as collateral. Today, only U.S. Treasury bills or U.S. government money market funds are utilized. For non-U.S. stocks, the borrower has to provide collateral worth 102% of the security’s value. As previously noted, the amount of collateral is adjusted daily based on the securities rising or falling in value. These safeguards are in place to protect the ETF’s shareholders.

Risk Overview

As with all investments understanding risk factors is a key part of the equation. We believe our best tool to mitigate risk is performing due diligence and analysis before any investment decisions are made. KraneShares partners with Brown Brothers Harriman (our lending agent and custodian) to address four key risk components: program risk, collateral reinvestment, counterparty risk and operational risk.

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Given the benefits of securities lending, we encourage investors to incorporate this data point into their due diligence process and further examine securities lending practices of ETFs that they are considering. The income stream from securities lending can produce a meaningful reduction in the cost of owning an ETF.