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Exchange-Traded Note (ETN)


An Exchange-Traded Note (ETN) is a type of unsecured debt security issued by a financial institution that tracks an underlying index of securities. Unlike Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), ETNs do not actually own the underlying securities in the index. The returns are linked to the performance of the index, however, investors are exposed to the credit risk of the issuing institution.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Exchange-Traded Note (ETN)” is: Exchange: /ɪks’tʃeindʒ/Traded: /’treɪdɪd/Note: /noʊt/ETN: /ˌiː tˌiː ˈɛn/

Key Takeaways

  1. ETNs are Unsecured Debt Securities: Exchange-Traded Notes (ETNs) are structured investment products backed by the issuer, often a bank. They are considered unsecured debt securities that pay a return linked to the performance of a single security or an index. Unlike bonds, ETNs do not pay interest payments and are not backed by a pool of assets, so they carry a credit risk.
  2. Market Price and Value can Differ Frequently: The market price of an ETN can greatly differ from its indicative value, which is based on the underlying securities or index. This is due to factors like supply/demand imbalances, credit rating changes of the issuer, shifts in volatility or interest rates, etc. For this reason, investors are encouraged to understand the ETN’s indicative value and its relation to the market price.
  3. Limited Redemption Options: Unlike ETFs, which can be bought/sold at any time during a trading day, ETNs have a longer investment duration and cannot usually be redeemed before maturity unless the issuer gives an option. Investors typically have to wait until the maturity date to receive a one-time payment calculated from the performance of the underlying index or security, which might result in investors receiving less than their original investment if the performance was negative.


Exchange-Traded Note (ETN) is an important financial term that refers to a type of unsecured debt security issued by an underwriting bank. ETNs are important because they offer investors a way to gain exposure to various market sectors, commodities, and investment strategies without actually owning the underlying assets. They are issued with a maturity date, pay a specific return based on the performance of a certain market index and can be bought and sold just like stocks. Furthermore, ETNs provide flexibility in terms of different types of investment themes: they can track anything from commodity prices to industry sectors to foreign currency exchange rates. Their strategic importance lies in the fact that they provide investors with potential advantages like market access, liquidity, transparency, and tax efficiency. Despite the risk of issuer default, ETNs remain attractive due to their ability to provide economical and straightforward access to otherwise hard-to-reach markets, thus enabling portfolio diversification.


Exchange-Traded Note (ETN) is a type of unsecured debt security that tracks an underlying index of securities and trades on a major exchange like a stock. The main purpose of an ETN is to enable investors to access different markets and asset classes that might be difficult or impossible to reach otherwise. This includes niche sectors like commodities or certain emerging markets that are generally considered inaccessible through traditional financial instruments. By purchasing ETNs, investors can get exposure to these sectors without actually having to buy the assets themselves. Moreover, ETNs are commonly used for their high level of flexibility. Unlike mutual funds or ETFs, ETNs don’t actually own the underlying assets they track, so there’s no need for fund managers to rebalance their portfolios, which can lower costs. Another distinguishing characteristic is that the performance of an ETN can be linked to a wide range of underlying assets, from traditional stock/bond indices to more exotic alternatives like volatility indices or foreign currencies. Thus, ETNs present an effective solution for sophisticated investors looking to implement advanced investment strategies.


1. iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX): This is a popular ETN tracing the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index. It’s designed to offer exposure to equity market volatility.2. VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX): This ETN tracks an index of futures contracts on the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index with a leverage factor of 2x. The fund aims to provide a tactical trading vehicle for sophisticated investors.3. ETRACS Monthly Pay 2xLeveraged Wellness Index ETN (BWL.A): This ETN is designed to offer 2x leveraged exposure to six global companies involved in the health and wellness sector. The index uses a methodology that selects companies based on health and wellness activities and adjusts holdings semi-annually.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an Exchange-Traded Note (ETN)?

An Exchange-Traded Note (ETN) is a type of unsecured debt security that tracks an underlying index of securities and trades on a major exchange like a stock. They are different from other debt securities in that the issuer pays the investor a predefined return upon maturity, based on the performance of the underlying index.

How is an ETN different from an ETF?

An ETN is a debt note, which means unlike an ETF (Exchange-Traded Fund), there is a credit risk associated with the issuer. ETFs own the assets they track, while ETNs are merely backed by the credit of the issuer.

Who typically issues ETNs?

ETNs are typically issued by financial institutions, particularly investment banks.

What are the risks associated with ETNs?

Although ETNs can provide investors with attractive returns, they must also assume the credit risk of the ETN issuer. If the issuer becomes insolvent, ETN investors may receive nothing.

How does the payment work with an ETN?

Upon maturity, the issuer pays the investor a return that’s linked to the performance of the underlying index, minus any fees. This payment can also occur if the investor sells the ETN before maturity at a price that may be more or less than the original investment.

What benefits do ETNs have?

ETNs offer investors access to markets and strategies that aren’t readily available through standard investments. They also offer more predictable outcomes and typically lower portfolio volatility.

Are ETNs suitable for all investors?

Not necessarily. ETNs are best suited for well-informed investors who understand the potential risks, such as credit risk and market risk, associated with this type of investment.

What commodities or markets do ETNs typically track?

ETNs can track a range of commodities and markets. Some may focus on sectors such as energy or technology, while others might track individual commodities like gold or crude oil. Some ETNs also track currencies or foreign markets.

Can I trade ETNs like a regular stock?

Yes, ETNs are traded on major exchanges just like a regular stock. You can buy and sell them throughout the day at market prices.

How are ETNs taxed?

ETNs may have complicated tax treatment, depending on the nature of the returns and the investor’s personal situation. As tax treatment may vary, it’s best to consult with a tax advisor before investing in ETNs.

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