Leveraged ETFs

Seems people do not fully understand the dynamics of leveraged  bull and bear ETFs!  They seem to think that they should mirror the market movement in terms of its multiple.  For example, if an index is down 20% over 6 months they expect that the reverse or bear ETF would show a gain of 60% and vice versa a loss of 60% for the bull.  Unfortunately it has nothing to do with the total return over a period but the daily ups and downs over that period.    In fact, these instruments are not designed to provide long term returns and should only be traded.

The following analysis assumes no change in an index over the period in question, but daily 20 point swings starting from an index base of 100.  As you will note a 20 point swing down from 100 is 20% and a 20 point swing up from 80 is 25%, or 60% and 75% if leveraged 3 times.   Carry this forward a few days and it is clear that a reverse leveraged ETF will lose money over the period (the loss day % is higher than the down day percentage).

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The first day is a negative day, so let us see what happens to a triple leveraged bull ETF under this scenario: a loss too.

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So what if the sequence starts off with a gain: what happens to the leveraged bull ETF?  A loss again.

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Obviously these are extreme examples, but it is the mathematics of point movements relative to percentage changes that impacts these investments.

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