How Dark Pools Operate – and Why They Exist

What Is a Dark Pool in Trading?

Dark pools, sometimes referred to as “dark pools of liquidity,” are a type of alternative trading system used by large institutional investors to which the investing public does not have access.

Living up to their “dark” name, these pools have no public transparency by design. Institutional investors, such as mutual fund managers, pension funds, and hedge funds, use dark pool trading to buy and sell large blocks of securities without moving the larger markets until the trade is executed.

Understanding the History of Dark Pools

The history of dark pools in the trading world starts in the 1980s, following changes at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which effectively allowed brokers to make trades in large share blocks. Later, in the mid-2000s, further SEC changes that were meant to cut trading costs and increase market competition led to an increase in dark pool trading.

Dark Pool Examples

There are many dark pools out there, and they can be operated by independent companies, brokers or broker groups, or stock exchanges themselves. An internet search would bring up names of specific dark pools.

But to get a sense of how a dark pool can be used to investors’ benefit, say there’s a mutual fund looking to sell 2 million shares of Stock X. Given that selling that amount of shares would create ripples in the market, the mutual fund may not want to sell them all at once. As such, they sell them in blocks of 10,000, 1,500, or 5,000 shares — and find buyers for the smaller blocks accordingly.

This method makes it less obvious that a huge number of shares are being sold, which could avoid Stock X’s shares losing value quickly.

Who Runs Dark Pools?

Investment banks typically run dark pools, but some other institutions run them as well, including large broker-dealers, agency brokers, and even some public exchanges. Some trading platforms, where individual investors buy and sell stocks, also use dark pools to execute trades using a payment for order flow.

Recommended: What Is a Market Maker?

The role of dark pools in the market varies over time. At times, dark pool trades comprise as much as half of all trading in a single day, while at other times, they make up significantly less of U.S. equity volume.

Because trades in a dark pool aren’t reflected in the prices on a public exchange, participants in a dark pool trade based on the prices offered on a public exchange, using the midpoint of the National Best Bid and Offer (NBBO) to set prices.


💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.

Why Institutions Use Dark Pools

Large, institutional investors such as hedge funds, may turn to dark pools to get a better price when buying or selling large blocks of a single stock. That’s because of the way that large trades impact the public markets.

As discussed, if a mutual fund manager, for example, wants to sell a million shares of a given stock because it’s underperforming or no longer fits their strategy, they’d need to use a floor trader to unload the position on a public exchange. Selling all those shares could impact the price they get, driving down the VWAP (volume weighted average price) of the total sale.

To avoid driving down the price, the manager might spread out the trade over several days. But if other traders identify the institution or the fund that’s selling they could also sell, potentially driving down the price even further.

The same risk exists when buying large blocks of a given security on a public market, as the purchase itself can attract attention and drive up the price.

Recommended: How to Identify an Underperforming Stock

New Risks

The risks of attracting attention from other traders have intensified with the rise of algorithmic trading and high-frequency trading (HFT). These strategies employ sophisticated computer programs to make big trades just ahead of other investors. HFT programs flood public exchanges with buy or sell orders to front-run giant block trades, and force the fund manager in the above example to get a worse price on their trade.

Dark Pool Benefits

Utilizing a dark pool and conducting a dark trade, institutional investors can sell a million shares of a stock without the public finding out because dark pool participants don’t disclose their trades to participants on the exchange. The details of trades within a dark pool only show up after a delay on the consolidated tape — the electronic system that collates price and volume data from major securities exchanges.

There are other advantages for an institutional trader. Because the buyers and sellers in a dark pool are other institutional traders, a fund manager looking to sell a million shares of a given stock is more likely to find buyers who are in the market for a million shares or more. On a public exchange, that million-share sale will likely need to be broken up into dozens, if not hundreds of trades.

Criticism of Dark Pools

As dark pools have grown in prominence, they’ve attracted criticism from many directions, and scrutiny from regulators. For instance, the lack of transparency in dark pools and the exclusivity of their clientele makes some investors uneasy. Some even believe that the pools give large investors an unfair advantage over smaller investors, who buy and sell almost exclusively on public exchanges.

The Takeaway

As discussed, dark pools are sometimes referred to as “dark pools of liquidity,” and are a type of alternative trading system used by large institutional investors to which the investing public does not have access. They’re typically run and utilized by large investment banks.

Given the nature of dark pools, they attracted criticism from some due to the lack of transparency, and the exclusivity of their clientele. While the typical investor may not interact with a dark pool, knowing the ins and outs may be helpful background knowledge.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

How can you see dark pool trades?

Investors can access dark pool trading data through various securities information processors, and can be accessed through FINRA’s website as well.

Who regulates dark pools?

The Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, is the government body that regulates dark pools and dark pool trading.

What are dark pools in cryptocurrency?

A dark pool in cryptocurrency is more or less the same as a dark pool in other equities markets, and is a place that matches buyers and sellers for large orders outside of a public exchange or view.

How do dark pools differ from lit pools?

As many might surmise, lit pools are effectively the opposite of dark pools, in that they show trading data such as number of shares traded and bid/ask prices.


Photo credit: iStock/DNY59

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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What Is Tax Lien Investing?

What Is Tax Lien Investing?

Tax lien investing involves an investor buys the claim that a local government makes on a property when an owner fails to pay their property taxes. Each year, states and municipalities sell billions of dollars in tax liens to the public.

The lien itself is a legal claim of ownership that a city or county makes against any property whose owner hasn’t paid taxes. The government then sells those claims, usually at auction, to investors. It is considered an alternative investment and a way to get real estate exposure in a portfolio.

How Tax Lien Investing Works

Tax lien investing involves an investor purchasing a property at auction that currently has a tax lien against it. They pay off the lien, and then the property is theirs, typically purchased as an investment.

If an investor wins a tax lien certificate at auction, they must immediately pay the state or local government the full amount of the lien. Then entitled to collect the property’s tax debt, plus interest and penalty fees. The interest that the property owner must repay the investor varies from state to state, but is usually in the 10%-12% range, using a simple interest formula. Some states charge as much as 2% per month on tax liens.

Property Tax Liens Explained

Between 2009 and 2022, historically low interest rates led many income-oriented investors have started to look more closely into buying tax lien certificates as a way to generate more returns from their portfolios. With relatively high interest rates, tax liens offer one way to generate investment income. Unlike many other interest rates, the rates on property taxes aren’t affected by market fluctuations, or decisions by the Federal Reserve. Instead, state statutes set the interest rates on overdue taxes.

That makes tax liens a potentially attractive alternative investment in a period of rock-bottom interest rates. But they come with their own unique risks. For starters, the investor only realizes the high interest rates if the property owner agrees to pay them.

The fact that the property owner is delinquent on their taxes may indicate, however, that they’re in a bad state financially, and unable to pay back the new owner of the lien. In that case, the only way for an investor to recoup the initial cost of buying the lien, plus interest and penalty fees, is to foreclose on the property and sell it. In that situation, the investor gets the money from the proceeds from the sale.

The good news for tax lien investors is that the lien certificate they receive from the local government usually supersedes other liens on the property, including any mortgages on it. That entitles the tax-lien investors to full proceeds from a foreclosure sale in most cases. The only creditor on a property who may have priority over tax-lien investors is the federal government for liens imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.

The bad news is that the lien certificates don’t, in any circumstances, give the investor ownership of the property. In cases where the property owner doesn’t pay the investor the money owed, a tax-deed foreclosure is the only way an investor can get paid.Those proceedings, along with eviction, repairs and other costs, can cut into returns made by the investor.


💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that opening a brokerage account typically doesn’t come with any setup costs? Often, the only requirement to open a brokerage account — aside from providing personal details — is making an initial deposit.

How to Buy Tax Liens

Not every state allows the public auction of overdue property taxes, but thousands of municipalities and counties across the country currently sell tax debt to the public.

For a new investor, one place to start looking into buying tax liens is by getting in touch with your local tax revenue official. They can point you to the publication of overdue taxes. Most states advertise property tax lien sales for before the actual sale. Most of the time, these advertisements let you know the property owner, the legal description of the property, and the amount of delinquent taxes.

How Do Tax Lien Sales Work?

Tax lien sales often, or mostly, happen at auction. The auctions themselves vary by municipality and state. Some are online, and others are in person. Some operate by having the investors bid on the interest rate. In this auction format, the municipality sets a maximum interest rate, and the investors then offer lower interest rates, with the lowest bidder winning the auction.

In another popular auction format, investors bid up a premium they’re willing to pay on the lien. In this format, the bidder who’s willing to pay the most — above and beyond the value of the lien — wins. But the investor can also collect interest on that premium in many cases.

If that sounds like too much work and research, investors can access this unique asset class by purchasing shares in a tax lien fund run by an institutional investor. Institutional investors may have the research, focus, and experience new investors may not have, or want to develop. Professional investors also have experience with some of the litigation and other expensive pitfalls that can come with a property foreclosure.

Tax Lien Investing Risks

As a financial asset, tax liens offer a unique opportunity for income, but they also have their own set of risks. The first is the property itself. The neighborhood and condition of the property make a difference in the value of the property and the ease with which an investor can sell it.

Another investment risk to keep in mind is that some owners may never pay back the property taxes they owe, and if the value of the property, after foreclosure, may not pay back the money invested in the lien. Investors also may have to deal with a property embroiled in litigation, or on which other creditors have a claim. This is one area where research can make a big difference.

Also, liens don’t last forever. They come with expiration dates, after which the owner can no longer foreclose on the property or collect overdue taxes and interest from the property owner. In some cases, investors will pay taxes on the property to which they own the lien for years, just to keep a claim on the underlying property. This can be a smart strategy if it gets the investor the property at a lower price, but it can also create opportunity costs.

Finally, the overall returns on tax liens are going down in many cases, as more large institutional investors start bidding on tax lien auctions. More bidders drive down the interest rates or drive up the premiums, depending on the auction format.

Benefits to Investing in Tax Liens

Investing in tax liens also has its potential benefits, including the chance of generating outsized returns (but keep the risks in mind, too). Sometimes, properties can be purchased for a relative bargain — such as a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, which can obviously be attractive to investors, though it may not be typical. Tax lien investing is another way to diversify a portfolio as well.

The Takeaway

Tax lien investing involves buying the claim that a local government makes on a property when an owner fails to pay their property taxes. Once an investor buys that claim, they then pay off the back taxes, and take ownership of the property. Each year, states and municipalities sell billions of dollars in tax liens to the public, making for ample opportunity.

Tax lien investment can offer an alternative investment that balances out a diversified portfolio, but it has many risks that individual investors should understand. Of course, there are plenty of other ways that investors can put their money to work for them.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

How can you get started in tax lien investing?

Prospective tax lien investors can get in touch with local tax officials to learn more about tax liens in their area, or do some internet searches to find when and where auctions are taking place. They can then bid and potentially win a claim on a property.

What’s the difference between tax liens and mortgage liens?

Tax liens are placed on a property by the government for unpaid property taxes, whereas a mortgage lien is placed on a property by a lender in order to secure it for a borrower failing to pay their home loan.

Are IRS tax liens public record?

IRS tax liens are federal tax liens, and are public record. The IRS will file a public document to alert others in the even that a federal lien is being placed on your property.


Photo credit: iStock/nortonrsx

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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What Is a Collective Investment Trust (CIT)?

What Is a Collective Income Trust (CIT)?

A collective investment trust (CIT), also commonly called a commingled trust or collective trust fund, is a pooled investment fund that’s similar to a traditional mutual fund — but a CIT falls under a different regulatory path and may offer lower fees and tax advantages.

Similar to a mutual fund, a collective investment trust generally consists of assets pooled from investors — but in the case of a CIT the funds come only from qualified, employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, pension plans, and government plans. They are typically not available to retail investors directly.

How a Collective Income Trust Works

CITs have grown in popularity over the years, likely due to their lower cost structures and the potential tax advantages they offer.

The goal for a collective income trust is to pool fund assets together into a single account (called a “master trust account”) and manage the investment funds in a highly diversified, low-cost manner. Although the trust is typically managed by a bank or trust company, the trustee can opt to hire an investment management firm in a sub-advisory capacity to manage the income portfolios.

The CIT investment process is fairly standard. Structurally, the bank or trust company will collect funds from various retirement-oriented investment accounts and commingle them into a single fund (i.e., the CIT), and thus become the trust’s “owner.” CIT investor participants don’t own any direct assets in the trust — instead they hold a participatory interest in the CIT fund assets (similar to the way investors hold mutual fund shares).

The trust, meanwhile, is free to invest in a wide variety of investment vehicles, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, currencies, derivatives, or possibly alternative investments like commodities or precious metals. Strategically, the trust manager’s mandate is two-fold:

1.    Collect investment assets from participating investment plans and commingle them into a single fund.

2.    Manage the single fund like any mutual fund manager does — with a specific investment strategy, and goals and track the fund’s performance to ensure the fund is meeting its investment goals.


💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that opening a brokerage account typically doesn’t come with any setup costs? Often, the only requirement to open a brokerage account — aside from providing personal details — is making an initial deposit.

Collective Income Trusts vs Mutual Funds

CITs are often compared to mutual funds because in both cases, investors’ assets are pooled and invested in a diversified portfolio of securities. Other than that, these two investment vehicles have some stark differences.

•   Individuals can invest in a mutual fund through an online brokerage or a personal retirement account like an IRA, but investors can only access CITs through an employer-sponsored retirement plan, pension plan, or insurance plan.

•   A collective investment trust is not regulated by the SEC but overseen by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) for national banks, or state banking authorities for state banks and the Department of Labor (DOL). As a result, a CIT is typically less transparent about its holdings than a mutual fund.

•   Unlike a mutual fund, a collective income trust is not required to register under bylaws created in the Investment Company Act of 1940. Thus, because a collective investment trust isn’t subject to the same operational, disclosure, and reporting rules of federal and state securities laws, the cost to invest in a CIT is generally lower than a mutual fund.

•   Whereas mutual fund fees are set by the investment firm as an expense ratio and are non-negotiable, some CIT costs can be negotiated.

•   CIT earnings are considered a tax exempt investment, not merely tax deferred as mutual fund earnings within an employer-sponsored plan might be.

•   A collective investment trust is set up as a trust and offered by a bank, trust company or other financial institution, whereas a mutual fund is offered by an asset management company.

A History of Collective Investment Trusts

Collective income trusts have been around for nearly a century. The first fund rolled out in 1927 on a limited basis. When the stock market crashed in 1929, CITs fell under additional scrutiny owing to the pooled nature of these funds, their lack of transparency, and the timing of the crash. Subsequently, CITs were significantly restricted by the government, which mandated that CITs could only be offered to trust company clients and through employee-sponsored retirement plans.

About 20 years ago, though, CITs began providing daily valuation and standardized transaction processing — in other words they began to operate more like mutual funds — which greatly increased adoption by defined contribution plans.

The real turning point came in 2006, when the Pension Protection Act provided for the use of Qualified Default Investment Alternatives (QDIA) for certain 401(k) plan investors. Target date funds, many of which include CITs, were designated as QDIAs, thus giving more investors access to CITs (although banks and trusts still couldn’t, and can’t, offer CITs directly to retail investors).

Since then, the cost efficiency of collective investment trusts has drawn the attention of many fund managers, and the use of CITs over traditional mutual funds in target-date fund series has grown.

Collective Income Trusts: Things to Know

By design, collective income trusts offer several unique features — and potential drawbacks — for qualified retirement plan providers and their investors:

CITs as fiduciaries

CITs must abide by the rules and regulations laid out in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). That means CITs must meet minimum standards of conduct, like requiring CIT providers to give investors critical information such as plan features and funding. As such, a CIT trustee is held to ERISA fiduciary standards for the ERISA plan assets invested in CITs.

CIT’s long-term focus

Unlike a mutual fund, a CIT doesn’t need to distribute 90% of its taxable income every year (mutual funds are regulated investment companies and are required to provide annual taxable income distributions to investors.) That allows collective income trusts to hold investment funds in the trust, allowing those investments to grow in value over time.

No FDIC coverage

Unlike bank deposits, investor deposits in a collective income trust are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). While investments in a 401(k) are not FDIC-insured either, if deposits (e.g. savings, money markets, CDs) are covered by an FDIC-insured institution, then the deposits are as well.

CITs and rollovers

Collective income trusts don’t offer the same investment portability of mutual funds. Trust customers have to liquidate their positions in the CIT into a cash account before they can roll over funds adding an extra step to the account rollover process. Thus, CIT investors should work closely with their plan sponsors when rolling plan funds over to another retirement plan.

The Takeaway

Although a collective investment trust is often compared to a mutual fund, the only two similarities of these vehicles is that they are both pooled investment portfolios, with funds from many investors commingled — and both are used in retirement plans. For now, though, a CIT is only available to investors through certain qualified plans.

Collective income trusts are becoming more common in the employment retirement plan universe, as more target date funds opt to include CITs. CITs are also quite different from mutual funds. They follow a different regulatory flow and are not overseen by the SEC. With more room to operate in a regulatory sense than traditional mutual funds, CITs can offer clients a unique long-term investment option tailored to their investment management needs, and in a cost-effective manner — all managed in a single investment account.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

How is a collective investment trust valued?

A collective investment trust (CIT) is usually valued daily, and its valuation is a summation of the assets that it holds, like many other investment vehicles.

How do you start a CIT?

Starting a CIT is an intricate process, and is by no means simple. It would involve putting together several governing documents, assuring that the CIT is operating within the confines of state and federal laws, working with regulators, and then pooling investments — no easy feat.

Are CITs recommended to diversify a portfolio?

CITs may be recommended by a financial professional as a way to diversify an investment portfolio, as they comprise many different individual investments under one fund or trust.


Photo credit: iStock/izusek

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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Exchange-Traded Notes: What Are ETNs? ETN Risks, Explained

What Is an Exchange-Traded Note (ETN)?

Exchange-traded notes, or ETNs, are debt securities that offer built-in diversity, and offer alternatives to other investment vehicles that may have certain problems for investors, like tracking errors and short-term capital gains taxes.

ETNs are similar to ETFs (exchange-traded funds), in that they may be a popular pathway to diversification because they expose investors to a wide range of financial assets, and come with lower expense ratios compared to mutual funds. As such, it can be beneficial for investors to understand ETNs and how they work.

What Is an Exchange-Traded Note (ETN)?

An ETN, or an exchange-traded note, is a debt security that acts much like a loan or a bond. Issuers like banks or other financial institutions sell the “note,” which tracks the performance of an underlying commodity or stock market index benchmark.

ETNs do not yield dividends or interest in the way that ETFs do. Before investors can earn a profit from an ETN, they must hold the security long enough for it to mature — typically ten to thirty years. Upon maturity, the ETN pays out one lump sum according to their underlying commodity’s return.

Exchange-Traded Notes Meaning

The term “exchange-traded note” may sound a bit off to some investors, but its meaning is fairly straightforward. For one, ETNs are “exchange-traded” because they’re literally traded on exchanges, like many other securities. And they’re called “notes” because they are debt securities, not pools of investments like a fund (as in ETF).

Examples of ETNs

To further illustrate how an ETN works and is constructed, suppose you purchase an ETN that tracks the price of gold. As an investor, you don’t own physical gold, but the note’s value tracks gold’s performance. When you sell the ETN, during or at the end of the holding period, your return will be the difference between gold’s sale price at that time and its original purchase price, deducting any associated fees.

Similarly, you could, hypothetically, create an ETN that tracks the price of a commodity like oil. Again, investors don’t actually own barrels of crude, but the ETN would track oil prices until it matures, and then pay out applicable returns.


💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that opening a brokerage account typically doesn’t come with any setup costs? Often, the only requirement to open a brokerage account — aside from providing personal details — is making an initial deposit.

Pros of ETNs

ETNs are a relatively newer type of financial security compared to some others available on the market. Their design comes with perks that some investors may find appealing.

Access to New Markets

Some individual investors may struggle to access niche markets like currencies, international markets, and commodity futures, since they require high minimum investments and significant commission prices. ETNs don’t have these limitations, making them more available to a larger pool of investors.

Accurate Performance Tracking

Unlike ETFs, ETNs don’t require rebalancing. That’s because ETNs do not own an underlying asset, rather they duplicate the index or asset class value it tracks. This means investors won’t miss any profits due to tracking errors, which means a difference between the market’s return and the ETF’s actual return.

Tax Treatment Advantages

Investors of ETNs don’t receive interest, monthly dividends, or annual capital gains distributions — which in turn means they don’t pay taxes on them. In fact, they only face long-term capital gains taxes when they sell or wait for an ETN to mature.

Liqudity

Investors have two options when selling ETNs: They can buy or sell them during regular day trading hours or redeem them from the issuing bank once a week.

Cons of ETN

Every investor must be wary of their investments’ drawbacks. Here are some potential cons of trading ETNs.

Limited Investment Options

Currently, there are fewer ETN options available to investors than other investment products. Additionally, though issuers try to keep valuations at a constant rate, pricing can vary widely depending on when you buy.

Liquidity Shortage

ETFs and stocks can be exchanged throughout the trading day according to price fluctuations. With ETNs, however, investors can only redeem large blocks of the security for their current underlying value once a week. This has the potential to leave them vulnerable to holding-period risks while waiting.

Credit, Default, and Redemption Risk

There are a range of risks associated with ETNs.

1.    Risk of default. An ETN is tied to a financial institution such as a bank. It’s possible for that bank to issue an ETN but fail to pay back the principal after the holding period. If so, they’ll go into default, leaving you with a loss. There’s no absolute protection for owners in this case since ETNs are unsecured. External and social factors can lead to a default, too, not just economic influences.

2.    Redemption risk. Investors can also take a loss if the institution calls its issued ETNs before maturity. This is called call or redemption risk. In this case, the early redemption may result in a lower sale price than the purchase price, leading to a loss.

3.    Credit risk. The institution that issues the ETN impacts the credit rating of the security, which has to do with credit risk. If a bank experiences a drop in its credit rating, so will the ETN. That leads to a loss of value, regardless of the market index it tracks.

ETN vs. ETF: What’s the Difference?

Comparing ETNs and ETFs may help investors to see the pros and cons of either asset more clearly. Both ETNs and ETFs are exchange-traded products (ETPs) that track the metrics of an underlying commodity they represent. Other than that, though, they operate differently from each other.

Asset Ownership

ETFs are similar to a mutual fund, in that investors have some ownership over multiple assets that the ETF bundles together. You invest in a fund that holds assets. They issue periodic dividends in returns as well.

In comparison, ETNs are debt instruments and represent one index or commodity. They are an unsecured debt note that tracks the performance of an asset but doesn’t actually hold the asset itself. As a result, they only issue one payout when you sell or redeem them.

Taxation

These differences impact taxation. An ETF’s distributions are taxable on a yearly basis. Every time a long-term holder of a conventional ETF receives a dividend, they face a short-term capital gains tax.

Comparatively, ETN’s one lump-sum incurs a single tax, making it beneficial for investors who want to minimize their annual taxes.

Recommended: ETF Trading & Investing Guide

The Takeaway

ETNs are unsecured debt notes that track an index or commodity, and are sold by banks and other financial institutions. Like any investment, ETNs have both benefits and drawbacks — and while they may sound like ETFs, there are differences between these two products, notably that with ETNs you do not own any underlying assets.

ETNs may have a place in an investment portfolio, but it’s important that investors fully understand what they are, how they work, and how they can be incorporated into an investment strategy. It may be helpful to speak with a financial professional for guidance.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

Who developed ETNs?

Barclays, a large international bank, first developed exchange-traded notes (ETNs) in 2006 as a way to give retail investors an easier path to investing in asset classes like commodities and currencies.

How is an ETN related to ETPs?

ETPs, or exchange-traded products, is a term that refers to a range of financial securities that trade on exchanges. ETNs, or exchange-traded notes, fall under the ETP umbrella, since they are investments that trade on exchanges.

Where are ETNs listed?

ETNs are listed on different exchanges, and can often be found by searching for their respective ticker or symbol.


Photo credit: iStock/Drazen_

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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What is Market Manipulation?

Market Manipulation: An Overview for Retail Investors

Market manipulation is exactly what it sounds like: using some sort of manipulation or even fraud to change the behavior of the stock market in an attempt to profit or generate returns. Market manipulation is not uncommon, and there are several methods or strategies that can be used to engage in it.

Given the legal perils, and the chance that investors could get caught up in various forms of market manipulation, it’s critical to have a basic understanding of what it is and what it can look like.

What Is Market Manipulation?

According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the definition of market manipulation is the “Intentional or willful conduct designed to deceive or defraud investors by controlling or artificially affecting the price of securities, or the Intentional interference with the free forces of supply and demand.” Basically, any action to impact the supply or demand for a stock and drive a stock’s price up or down by artificial means constitutes stock market manipulation.

The SEC views market manipulation as harmful, since the practice “affects the integrity of the marketplace.” According to the regulatory agency, financial market prices “should be set by the unimpeded collective judgment of buyers and sellers.” Anything else “undermines fair, honest and orderly markets.”

The SEC has warned market leaders that investors will “stay out of your market if they perceive that it is not fair and is subject to market manipulation.”

What Are Examples of Market Manipulation?

There are several methods that market manipulators use to push the prices of a security in the direction they prefer, creating investment risk for those who fall victim to their schemes.

Pump and Dump

The pump-and-dump scam is a common form of market manipulation. It occurs when a financial market participant who holds a specific investment knowingly issues false or misleading statements about the underlying company on social networking sites or other forms of media.

The goal is to “pump up” the stock with misleading information and artificially inflate the stock as buyers flock in, attracted by the false information provided by the market manipulator. The manipulator shorts the stock or waits for the optimal price point and then sells the stock before reality sets in, the information becomes known as false, and investors sell their holdings.

For example, in a pump-and-dump scheme, a market manipulator may start a rumor that a publicly-traded company is going to be bought by a larger company, which can quickly boost a company’s stock price. If enough investors buy into the rumor, more investors buy the stock, thus elevating the stock price.

Once the price hits a certain level, the market manipulators sell their shares of the stock and pocket a potentially significant profit. Those investors who don’t sell are left with a stock that could tank in price when investors realize the underlying company isn’t being bought out.

The “Wash” Method

Wash trading is a form of market manipulation, an unscrupulous investor, or group of investors acting in tandem, buy and sell the same stock repeatedly over a period of a few days or even a few hours.

By and large, an “active” trading period of a stock is considered a sign of that security’s increase in value, and the stock may swing upward as more investors notice the stock is being actively and even aggressively traded.

This scheme, also known as “painting the tape” or “matched orders” enables a few investors to team up, actively buy and sell a security to paint a picture of a stock drawing interest in the market, and sell the stock for a profit as other investors jump aboard and drive the stock’s price upward.

Tape “Spoofing”

Spoofing is also known as “layering,” and occurs when market manipulators set trading orders with brokers they have no intention of executing. In financial markets, it’s common for market orders to be public. When large orders to buy or sell a certain security are made, other investors jump aboard hoping to piggyback the unexecuted trade, thus drumming up more interest — and more investors — in the security.

Market manipulators leverage that momentum trading, and wait until the time is right to buy or sell the security as other investors’ trader orders are fulfilled. With the “spoof” finalized, the investors who wound up actually executing their trades may then see the stock move against their intended price target. Meanwhile, the “spoofer” has cancelled the trade and taken a profit on the artificial stock price, by buying or selling the security based upon intended market movement.

Marking the Close

When a market manipulator buys a security at the close of the trading day, and pays more than the bid level, or the asking price of the security, that manipulator could be “marking the close.”

As the price of a stock at day’s end is usually a reliable marker for the investment’s price performance going forward, other investors often jump in and buy the stock. The market manipulator leverages the gain and locks in a profit by quickly selling the stock once its price moves upward.


💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

How to Avoid Market Manipulation

It’s not always easy to see the “red flags” that signal an active market manipulator. However, beginner investors who are aware of common scams may be able to avoid falling victim to their scams.

Invest for the Long Term

Since market manipulators often profit from day-to-day stock movements, investors with long-term portfolios, who don’t engage in market timing, are largely insulated from the impact of market manipulators’ schemes.

Avoid Penny Stocks

Penny stocks, nano stocks, and micro-cap stocks — are often the lowest priced securities on the market and are often low-float stocks, which makes them highly volatile and more vulnerable to the price movements engineered by market manipulators.

Larger stocks, on the other hand, such as mega cap stocks, are less vulnerable to market manipulation due to their trading volume and the level of public scrutiny that they are subject to.

Conduct Due Diligence

When alerted to a potential research report, Internet chatroom or social media comment, or other sources of potentially false or misleading news, resist the urge to immediately trade on the information. That’s exactly what market manipulators expect investors to do, and they profit from impulsive market actions.

Instead, stay calm and do your research to see if there’s any validity to the news–or red flags to indicate manipulation.

Know the Scams

Awareness of schemes such as pump-and-dump or spoofing can make it easier for you to spot them in action.

The Takeaway

Market manipulation is the act of artificially moving the price of a security and profiting from that movement. Even sophisticated investors can fall victim to market manipulation, but understanding how such schemes work can help you spot and avoid them.

Knowing the basics of market manipulation, and how to sidestep it (if possible) can be another tool in an investor’s toolkit. It’s also worth noting that regulators are on the hunt for it, too. If you have further questions, it may be beneficial to speak with a financial professional.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

What is the criminal punishment for market manipulation?

Potential punishments for market manipulation depend on the specifics of the crime, the charges, and a potential conviction, but they can involve hefty fines and many years in jail, in some circumstances.

How do big investors manipulate the stock market?

It’s possible that some bad actors spread rumors or false news about market movements in an attempt to influence sentiment, spoofing the markets, or engaging in pump and dump schemes.

How do short sellers impact stock prices?

It’s possible that short sellers can drive the value of a stock down, improving the short sellers’ positions, in the short-term.


Photo credit: iStock/HAKINMHAN

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

SOIN0723148

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