What is a Leveraged ETF? How Does it Work?

By Intrinio
October 25, 2023

What is a Leveraged ETF?

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) have gained immense popularity among investors due to their simplicity, diversification benefits, and liquidity. However, not all ETFs are created equal. Leveraged ETFs, a subset of the ETF universe, offer a unique investment strategy that can amplify returns - but with increased risk. Let's dive into what a leveraged ETF is and how it operates.

A Leveraged ETF, short for Leveraged Exchange-Traded Fund, is a type of ETF designed to provide multiplied returns relative to a specific benchmark or index. Unlike traditional ETFs, which aim to track the performance of an index closely, leveraged ETFs use financial derivatives and debt instruments to magnify the daily returns of their underlying index. The term "leveraged" refers to the use of financial leverage to achieve this goal.

Leveraged ETFs are typically used by experienced traders and investors who seek to capitalize on short-term market movements and are comfortable with higher levels of risk.

How Does a Leveraged ETF Work?

The mechanics of a leveraged ETF are based on daily compounding, which distinguishes them from traditional ETFs. Here's how it works:

  • Objective: A leveraged ETF is designed to achieve a multiple (e.g., 2x or 3x) of the daily returns of its benchmark index. For example, if the underlying index goes up by 1% on a given day, a 2x leveraged ETF aims to go up by 2%, and a 3x leveraged ETF aims to go up by 3%.
  • Derivatives and Swaps: To achieve this magnified return, leveraged ETFs use financial derivatives, such as futures contracts and swaps. These instruments allow the ETF to gain exposure to the index without having to hold all the underlying assets.
  • Daily Reset: Leveraged ETFs reset their leverage daily, which means that the multiple is applied anew each day. This daily resetting can lead to compounding effects over time, which may cause the ETF's performance to deviate significantly from the benchmark over extended periods.
  • Volatility Risk: Due to daily resetting and compounding, leveraged ETFs are highly sensitive to short-term market volatility. If the underlying index experiences frequent fluctuations, the ETF's performance may differ significantly from the expected multiple.

Costs of a Leveraged ETF

While leveraged ETFs offer the potential for amplified returns, they come with certain costs and risks:

1. Expense Ratios

Leveraged ETFs tend to have higher expense ratios compared to traditional ETFs. These fees cover the cost of managing and rebalancing the derivatives portfolio. Investors should be aware of these expenses, as they can eat into returns, especially in the long term.

2. Tracking Error

The daily compounding mechanism can lead to tracking errors over time. This means that the ETF's returns may not precisely match the expected multiple of the benchmark's returns, particularly in volatile markets.

3. Risk of Losses

While leveraged ETFs can magnify gains, they can also amplify losses. If the underlying index experiences a series of negative returns, the value of a leveraged ETF can decline rapidly. This makes them unsuitable for buy-and-hold investors or those with a low-risk tolerance.

Example of How a Leveraged ETF Works

Let's illustrate the mechanics of a 2x leveraged ETF with a simple example:

Suppose there is a 2x Leveraged S&P 500 ETF. On a day when the S&P 500 Index gains 1%, the leveraged ETF aims to deliver a return of 2%, resulting in a 2% gain for investors.

However, if the S&P 500 Index declines by 1% the next day, the leveraged ETF will aim to deliver a return of -2%, resulting in a 2% loss for investors. This daily resetting and compounding can lead to performance deviations from the 2x multiple over longer periods.

Pros and Cons of Leveraged ETFs


  • Potential for Amplified Returns: The primary advantage of leveraged ETFs is their potential to deliver multiplied returns, making them attractive for short-term traders looking to capitalize on market volatility.
  • Intraday Liquidity: Like traditional ETFs, leveraged ETFs offer intraday liquidity, allowing investors to buy and sell shares throughout the trading day.
  • Diversification: Leveraged ETFs can provide exposure to a wide range of asset classes and markets, allowing investors to diversify their portfolios.


  • High Risk: Leveraged ETFs are inherently riskier than traditional ETFs due to their daily resetting and compounding mechanism. They can lead to significant losses in volatile markets.
  • Short-Term Focus: These ETFs are designed for short-term trading strategies and are not suitable for long-term investors seeking steady, predictable returns.
  • Tracking Error: The daily compounding of returns can result in tracking errors, causing the ETF's performance to deviate from the expected multiple over time.

Where to Find ETF Data

To make informed investment decisions, it's crucial to have access to reliable ETF data. Intrinio offers a comprehensive data platform that includes a wide range of financial data, including ETF data.

Here's how you can access ETF data through Intrinio:

  • Search and Identify: Use Intrinio's data search functionality to find specific ETF data by name, ticker symbol, or other criteria.
  • Data Feeds: Intrinio provides data feeds that deliver real-time and historical ETF data, including prices, trading volumes, NAV (Net Asset Value), holdings, analytics, metadata and more.
  • API Integration: Developers can integrate Intrinio's ETF data API into their trading and investment applications to access up-to-date information on a wide range of ETFs.
  • Documentation and Support: Intrinio offers comprehensive documentation and support to help you make the most of their data services.

In conclusion, leveraged ETFs can be powerful tools for experienced traders looking to capitalize on short-term market movements. However, they come with increased risk and complexity compared to traditional ETFs. It's essential to fully understand how leveraged ETFs work, consider their costs and risks, and have access to reliable ETF data sources, such as Intrinio, when incorporating them into your investment strategy.

If you have any questions, feel free to chat with our team or request a consultation with one of our data experts - we’re ready to help!

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