As the popularity of exchange traded funds (ETFs) continues to expand, it is important to understand the four different ETF structures.
The first structure is that of a Unit Investment Trust, commonly referred to as a UIT. A UIT is one of three basic types of investment companies. The other two types are mutual funds and closed-endfunds.
Here are some of the traditional and distinguishing characteristics of UITs:
A UIT typically issues redeemable securities (or "units"), like a mutual fund, which means that the UIT will buy back an investor's "units," at the investor's request, at their approximate net asset value (or NAV) . Some exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are structured as UITs. Under SEC exemptive orders, shares of ETFs are only redeemable in very large blocks (blocks of 50,000 shares, for example) and are traded on a secondary market.
A UIT typically will make a one-time "public offering" of only a specific, fixed number of units (like closed-end funds). Many UIT sponsors, however, will maintain a secondary market, which allows owners of UIT units to sell them back to the sponsors and allows other investors to buy UIT units from the sponsors.
A UIT will have a termination date (a date when the UIT will terminate and dissolve) that is established when the UIT is created (although some may terminate more than fifty years after they are created). In the case of a UIT investing in bonds, for example, the termination date may be determined by the maturity date of the bond investments. When a UIT terminates, any remaining investment portfolio securities are sold and the proceeds are paid to the investors.
A UIT does not actively trade its investment portfolio. That is, a UIT buys a relatively fixed portfolio of securities (for example, five, ten, or twenty specific stocks or bonds), and holds them with little or no change for the life of the UIT. Because the investment portfolio of a UIT generally is fixed, investors know more or less what they are investing in for the duration of their investment. Investors will find the portfolio of securities held by the UIT listed in its prospectus.
A UIT does not have a board of directors, corporate officers, or an investment adviser to render advice during the life of the trust and are regulated primarily under the Investment Company Act of 1940 and the rules adopted under that Act, in particular Section 4 and Section 26.
The second form of an ETF is that of the grantor trust. These ETF structures that is generally used to track and hold commodities, such as gold or silver, and currencies.