15 Most Actively Traded ETFs

April 26, 2018

If there’s one thing traders love, it’s volatility. Large price swings create opportunities for nimble traders to time the market by buying low and selling high.

That’s something that was nearly impossible to do in last year’s environment of steady gains. Investors who sat tight with a buy-and-hold strategy were rewarded handsomely in 2017, while traders counting on volatility to outperform were left frustrated. So far in 2018, the situation has been flipped on its head.

This year, investors are the ones frustrated by a market that’s swung around a lot, but ultimately hasn’t gone anywhere despite strong earnings and economic fundamentals. On the other hand, traders are gleefully trading in and out of the market as stocks whipsaw violently.

The increased trading activity is reflected in the market’s volume levels. Volume—a measure of how many shares trade hands on a given day—is averaging 7.3 billion shares per day across the major U.S. exchanges, year-to-date. That compares with 6.5 billion for all of 2017.

Much of that volume is showing up in ETFs. The most actively traded securities on U.S. exchanges are usually exchange-traded funds, with tens of millions of shares exchanging hands each day in some popular names.

Trader Favorites

Take the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY). It traded an average of 105.1 million shares per day on average during the last 30 days. For comparison, Bank of America—the most actively traded stock within the S&P 500—traded an average of 73 million shares in that same time frame.

SPY isn’t the only ETF traders love. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM), the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) the PowerShares QQQ Trust (QQQ) and the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) are a few heavyweights that routinely trade over 50 million shares per day.

In many cases, these heavily traded funds aren’t the cheapest ETFs in their category, nor do they have the most assets under management. Instead, they’re often old, established funds with liquid options markets underlying them—characteristics that appeal to traders.

Indeed, there’s several cases where ETFs that are small in terms of assets have huge amounts of volume. For instance, the VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX) only has $439 million in AUM, but it trades a whopping 51.5 million shares per day, making it the sixth-most-traded ETF on the market.

Likewise, the iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX) and the ProShares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (UVXY) only have a few billion dollars in assets between them, but they each trade more than 36 million share per day.

Volatility ETFs aren’t the only ones punching above their weight. The VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), the iShares China Large-Cap ETF (FXI), the Alerian MLP ETF (AMLP), the United States Oil Fund LP (USO) and the SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (XOP) all have outsized volumes compared to assets.

Dollar Volume

Of course, simply measuring the volume of shares that trade hands for a particular ETF doesn't tell the whole story. All else equal, cheaper-priced funds tend to have more shares traded because investors can simply buy more for a given amount of money.

Dollar volume—which measures the number of shares traded multiplied by the share price—gives a more complete view of how much money is exchanging hands in a security.

At the top of the list, the picture doesn’t change with this new measure. SPY is still the top dog, with $28 billion worth of shares trading hands each day. QQQ, IWM, EEM are also close to the top, with more than $3 billion worth of shares traded daily.

Impressively, VXX also makes the cut for this list, with almost $1.7 billion worth of shares trading each day—more than the ETP’s entire AUM.

The ProShares UltraPro QQQ (TQQQ), with assets of $3.6 billion and dollar volume of $1.1 billion, is another one punching far above its weight, thanks to strong popularity with traders.

See the complete list of top 15 volume and dollar-volume leaders in the tables below:

 

Top 15 Volume Leaders

Ticker Fund 30-Day Avg Volume
SPY  SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust 105,099,104
EEM  iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF 67,329,824
XLF  Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund 62,840,356
TVIX  VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN 51,536,440
QQQ  PowerShares QQQ Trust 50,665,232
GDX  VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF 38,838,640
VXX  iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN 36,700,288
UVXY  ProShares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF 36,266,556
FXI  iShares China Large-Cap ETF 25,401,404
EFA  iShares MSCI EAFE ETF 24,597,226
AMLP  Alerian MLP ETF 22,686,324
IWM  iShares Russell 2000 ETF 22,464,092
SQQQ  ProShares UltraPro Short QQQ 19,782,016
USO  United States Oil Fund LP 18,665,894
XOP  SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF 17,025,436

 

Top 15 Dollar-Volume Leaders

Ticker Fund 30-Day Avg Dollar Volume
SPY  SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust 28,026,952,673
QQQ  PowerShares QQQ Trust 8,276,486,789
IWM  iShares Russell 2000 ETF 3,464,577,170
EEM  iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF 3,240,023,299
XLF  Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund 1,752,722,247
EFA  iShares MSCI EAFE ETF 1,723,445,610
VXX  iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN 1,660,076,370
DIA  SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF Trust 1,353,944,492
FXI  iShares China Large-Cap ETF 1,206,829,188
IVV  iShares Core S&P 500 ETF 1,197,531,524
HYG  iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF 1,172,039,452
XLK  Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund 1,080,527,142
TQQQ  ProShares UltraPro QQQ 1,068,264,749
XLE  Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund 1,045,274,297
XLI  Industrial Select Sector SPDR Fund 1,018,712,181

 

Contact Sumit Roy at [email protected]

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