How to Tell If an ETF Is Overvalued

Learn methods of determining the value of an ETF and if it’s overpriced.

kent
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Research Lead
Reviewed by: Kent Thune
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Edited by: Kent Thune

There are several metrics that can be used to evaluate an ETF. For investors who are conscious about valuation, there are specific measures to evaluate, including net asset value (NAV) and intraday indicative value. Investors may also want to understand the fundamentals of an ETF’s underlying holdings. 

Learn how the various ETF valuation techniques work and make better investment decisions. 

How Do You Tell If an ETF Is Overvalued? 

When determining whether an ETF is overvalued, investors may be either seeking the value of the ETF itself or a collective valuation metric of the ETF’s holdings. For the ETF’s valuation, an investor can analyze and compare multiple metrics, such as the ETF’s net asset value (NAV), market price and intraday indicative value (IIV). 

To analyze the overall valuation of the ETF’s holdings, an investor can review fundamental metrics, such as the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio and the price-to-book (PB) ratio and compare these ratios to those of a comparable benchmark, such as the S&P 500 index. 

In summary, there are two primary methods of telling if an ETF is overvalued: 

  1. Calculate and analyze the value of an ETF. 
  2. Research and analyze the fundamental valuation of an ETF’s holdings. 

How to Calculate the Value of an ETF 

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have become a popular investment option due to their low fees, diversification, and ease of trading. However, it's important to understand how to calculate the value of an ETF in order to make informed investment decisions.

Here are some steps to calculate the value of an ETF: 

  • Determine the ETF’s NAV 
  • Check the ETF's market price 
  • Compare the ETF’s market price to its NAV 
  • Evaluate the ETF’s premium or discount 
  • Consider the ETF’s cash and cash equivalents 
  • Analyze the ETF’s IIV 

It's important to note that the value of an ETF can change rapidly and is influenced by many factors. Therefore, it's important to regularly monitor the value of your ETF investments and adjust your portfolio as needed. 

Determine the ETF’s NAV 

The NAV is calculated by taking the total value of the ETF's underlying assets and dividing it by the number of outstanding shares. This gives you the per-share value of the ETF. 

Check the ETF's Market Price 

The market price of an ETF is the price at which it trades on an exchange. You can find this information on financial websites or by checking the ETF's ticker symbol on a stock market quote service. 

Compare the ETF’s Market Price to the NAV 

Compare the market price to the NAV to determine if the ETF is trading at a premium or discount to its NAV. If the market price is higher than the NAV, the ETF is trading at a premium. If the NAV is lower than the price, the ETF is trading at a discount. 

Evaluate the ETF’s Premium or Discount 

If the ETF is trading at a premium, it could indicate that the ETF is overvalued. If it's trading at a discount, it could indicate that the ETF is undervalued. Keep in mind that the premium or discount can also be affected by market conditions and investor sentiment. 

Consider the ETF’s Cash and Cash Equivalents 

Cash and cash equivalents refer to highly liquid assets that can be easily converted into cash, such as money market instruments, certificates of deposit and government bonds. They are considered low-risk investments and are used by ETFs to manage risk and provide liquidity. 

The presence of cash and cash equivalents in an ETF can impact its performance and value, especially in periods of market volatility. For example, cash and cash equivalents serve as a buffer for ETFs during periods of market volatility, helping to protect the value of the ETF. Additionally, they provide liquidity, making it easier for the ETF to buy and sell assets, and can be used to meet redemptions from investors. 

Analyze the ETF’s Intraday Indicative Value 

Intraday indicative value is a measure used by ETFs to provide an estimated value of the ETF's holdings during the trading day. The IIV is calculated and disseminated by the ETF's market makers and is based on the current market prices of the underlying securities in the ETF. It is not the actual market price of the ETF, which can fluctuate throughout the day based on supply and demand. 

IIV is an important tool for ETF traders, as it provides a real-time estimate of the ETF's value and can be used to determine the fair value of the ETF during the trading day. However, it's important to note that IIV is an estimate only and may not match the actual market price of the ETF. 

How to Evaluate the Fundamental Value of an ETF 

To evaluate the fundamental value of an ETF, an investor can analyze the collective fundamental valuation of the ETF’s holdings. Some of the key metrics can include ratios, such as price-to-earnings (P/E) or price-to-book (P/B), as well as historical trends and a market comparison. 

Here are some key metrics for evaluating the fundamental value of an ETF: 

  • ETF P/E ratio 
  • ETF P/B ratio
  • Historical trends of price and volume 
  • Compare ETF to a market benchmark 

ETF P/E Ratio 

The price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of an ETF measures the collective price of an ETF’s holdings relative to their respective earnings. A high P/E ratio indicates that the ETF is overvalued. Investors should keep in mind that some ETFs, such as growth ETFs, are expected to have higher P/E ratios compared to a broad market index, such as the S&P 500. 

ETF P/B Ratio 

The price-to-book value (P/B) ratio compares the collective price of an ETF’s holdings to their respective book values. A high P/B ratio could mean the ETF is overvalued. 

Historical Trends of Price and Volume 

To determine if an ETF is overvalued, an investor can analyze the historical trend of the ETF's price and volume. If the price has risen rapidly in a short period and the volume is decreasing, it could indicate that the ETF is overvalued. 

Compare ETF to a Market Benchmark 

An ETF’s overall fundamental valuation can be a relative measure, which means that comparing valuation metrics to a benchmark can be useful. For example, an investor could compare the P/E ratio or P/B ratio of an ETF to that of the S&P 500 index. 

Bottom Line 

It's important to keep in mind that these indicators are not foolproof and should be used in combination with other analysis tools to choose the right ETF for a portfolio. Additionally, market conditions and investor sentiment can play a significant role in determining the value of an ETF. 

In conclusion, by using a combination of these indicators, you can get a better understanding of whether an ETF is overvalued and make informed investment decisions. 

Kent Thune is Research Lead for etf.com, focusing on educational content, thought leadership, content management and search engine optimization. Before joining etf.com, he wrote for numerous investment websites, including Seeking Alpha and Kiplinger. 

 

Kent holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and is a practicing Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) with 25 years of experience managing investments, guiding clients through some of the worst economic and market environments in U.S. history. He has also served as an adjunct professor, teaching classes for The College of Charleston and Trident Technical College on the topics of retirement planning, business finance, and entrepreneurship. 

 

Kent founded a registered investment advisory firm in 2006 and is based in Hilton Head Island, SC, where he lives with his wife and two sons. Outside of work, Kent enjoys spending time with his family, playing guitar, and working on his philosophy book, which he plans to publish in the coming year.