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Understand tracking differences in ETF investing

22 April 20246 mins read by Angel One
In March 2024 Kotak Nifty Small-cap 50 Index Fund shows maximum tracking difference where LIC MF Nifty 50 Index Fund consistently outperforms its benchmark.
Understand tracking differences in ETF investing
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Investing in Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) has become increasingly popular among investors seeking diversified exposure to various asset classes and market segments. ETFs are designed to track the performance of a specific index, providing investors with a convenient way to gain exposure to a particular market or sector. However, investors need to understand that the performance of an ETF may not always perfectly mirror that of its underlying index. This discrepancy is known as the tracking difference.

What is Tracking Difference?

Tracking difference measures the disparity between the returns of an ETF and its underlying benchmark index over a specific period. In other words, it quantifies how closely the ETF’s performance aligns with that of its designated index. Tracking difference is expressed as a percentage and can be either positive or negative.

A positive tracking difference indicates that the ETF has outperformed its benchmark index, while a negative tracking difference suggests underperformance. It’s important to note that tracking difference is rarely zero, as various factors contribute to deviations between an ETF’s returns and those of its index.

Factors Influencing Tracking Difference

  • Total Expense Ratio (TER): The TER represents the annual cost of owning an ETF, including management fees, administrative expenses, and other operational costs. A higher TER can result in a larger tracking difference, as it reduces the net returns available to investors.
  • Transaction and Rebalancing Costs: ETFs must periodically rebalance their portfolios to align with changes in the underlying index composition. Buying and selling securities incurs transaction costs, which can contribute to tracking differences, particularly in the case of frequent portfolio adjustments or illiquid securities.
  • Sampling: Some ETFs use a sampling strategy instead of holding all the securities in their benchmark index. This approach aims to replicate the index’s performance using a representative subset of securities, which may result in tracking differences due to sampling error.
  • Cash Drag: ETFs may hold cash reserves or invest in short-term securities to manage liquidity or facilitate dividend distributions. However, these cash holdings can lead to tracking differences, especially during periods of market volatility or when dividends are reinvested at different rates.
  • Timing: Differences in the timing of trades between the ETF and its underlying index can also contribute to tracking differences. Market fluctuations and delays in executing trades may cause the ETF’s returns to diverge from those of the index.
  • Securities Lending: Some ETFs engage in securities lending activities to generate additional income. While this practice can help offset expenses and reduce tracking differences, it also introduces counterparty risk and may impact overall fund performance.

Example of Tracking Difference

Suppose an investor purchases units of an ETF designed to track the performance of the Nifty500 Index. Over one year, the ETF achieves a total return of 11%, while the S&P 500 Index returns 12%. In this scenario, the tracking difference would be -1%, indicating that the ETF underperformed its benchmark by 1%.

Following are the 5 ETFs with higher tracking differences since launch:

Scheme Name Benchmark Tracking Difference (%)
1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year Since Launch
Kotak Nifty Smallcap 50 Index Fund Nifty Smallcap 50 TRI -5.36%
Kotak Nifty 200 Momentum 30 Index Fund Nifty 200 Momentum 30 Index TRI -4.28%
LIC MF Nifty 50 Index Fund Nifty 50 TRI -1.69% -1.41% -1.37% -1.66% -4.15%
LIC MF S & P BSE Sensex Index Fund S&P BSE Sensex TRI -1.57% -1.26% -1.18% -1.57% -3.88%
CPSE ETF Nifty CPSE TRI -0.72% -0.67% -0.52% 1.15% 1.20%
Tracking Difference for Mar-2024

Difference Between Tracking Error and Tracking Difference

While tracking difference and tracking error are related concepts, they measure different aspects of an ETF’s performance relative to its benchmark:

Tracking Error: Tracking error quantifies the volatility of the difference in returns between an ETF and its underlying index. It represents the consistency of the ETF’s performance relative to the index and is typically expressed as a standard deviation percentage. A lower tracking error indicates a closer replication of the index’s performance.

Tracking Difference: Tracking difference measures the performance gap between an ETF and its benchmark by calculating the annualized difference in returns. It directly reflects the extent to which the ETF’s returns deviate from those of the index over a specific period. Positive tracking differences indicate outperformance, while negative values signify underperformance.

In summary, tracking difference measures the performance gap between an ETF and its benchmark. By understanding the factors influencing tracking differences and their implications for investment outcomes, investors can make more informed decisions when selecting ETFs for their portfolios.

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Disclaimer: This blog has been written exclusively for educational purposes. The securities mentioned are only examples and not recommendations. The information is based on various secondary sources on the internet and is subject to change. Please consult with a financial expert before making investment decisions.

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