From what I understand, investing is leveraged ETFS is generally for short term holders such as day and swing traders because they rebalance nightly and over the long haul don't provide the returns that the non-leveraged ETF does.

I also read that the reason why is because they are rebalanced overnight. Why must they do this? Why couldn't Vanguard/Blackrock say "Ok, this is a 3x leveraged 2015 basket S&P500 ETF" where they never again touched that portfolio and let those positions size up according to growth?

I might be missing a fundamental component here so thanks for the help.

  • 3
    Then what you have is not an ETF tracking the S&P 500 index, you have an ETF tracking "stocks that made up the S&P 500 index at some arbitrary point in time". It's not clear why anyone would want that. They have to adjust for companies being added or dropped from the index, and for corporate actions (share issues, share repurchases, mergers, etc.)
    – JBGreen
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 18:37
  • @JBChouinard That makes sense, I guess what I am wondering is why is there no way to make an ETF that is 3x leverage that over long periods of time instead of averaging 7% returns averages 21% returns (albeit higher fees) Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 18:40
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    Where did you read that the reason for not holding leveraged S&P 500 is because of rebalancing? I would think the main reason not to hold it in the long term is so that you don't get wiped out in a downturn.
    – JBGreen
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 18:40
  • 1
    Higher returns mean higher risks. With a 3x leverage, a 33% downturn will bring you to zero, and if you can't keep up with the margin requirements, your position will be liquidated and you will lose everything.
    – JBGreen
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 18:44
  • @JBChouinard This line from the article is what confuses me "If you do some research, you will find that some bull and bear [leveraged] ETFs that track the same index both perform poorly over the same time frame." Linked here investopedia.com/articles/financial-advisors/082515/… Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 18:45

2 Answers 2


Suppose that a 2x leverage ETF has a starting value of $100 and it rises 10% immediately. It's now worth $110. In order to maintain 2x leverage, it must add another $10 of leverage because the leverage ratio is now less than 2x.

Conversely, if the ETF's price decreases, the leverage ratio exceeds 2x. If the ETF does not rebalance, the leverage ratio strays from 2x and will not deliver as promised. Some leveraged ETFs do not reset nightly

Here's an article that explains it. Scroll down until you get to the paragraph titled: Rebalancing Process https://etfdb.com/leveraged-etfs/under-the-hood-of-leveraged-etfs/

A secondary reason for rebalancing is because of M&A in the underlying index that the leveraged ETF is tracking. That has nothing to do with the nightly rebalancing done to maintain leverage. All ETFs change components as the underlying index changes.

  • Oh, that makes a ton of sense. Thanks. One quick question though, why do leveraged etfs lag non-leveraged ones over the long run? Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 18:47
  • Leveraging involves buying options and/or futures. It may also involve borrowing money. There's a cost for that which leads to performance drag. Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 18:57
  • Another issue with leveraged ETFs is Beta Slippage. "Imagine a very volatile asset that goes up 25% one day and down 20% the day after. A perfect double leveraged ETF goes up 50% the first day and down 40% the second day. On the close of the second day, the underlying asset is back to its initial price: (1 + 0.25) x (1 – 0.2) = 1 ... continued: Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 19:14
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    And the perfect leveraged ETF? (1 + 0.5) x (1 – 0.4) = 0.9 Nothing has changed for the underlying asset, and 10% of your money has disappeared. Beta-slippage is not a scam. It is the normal mathematical behavior of a leveraged and rebalanced portfolio" jonathankinlay.com/2018/11/… Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 19:15

To maintain a constant leverage ratio greater than 1x, an ETF must rebalance. This takes the form of buying high and selling low, which produces the lag effect.

However, you may be asking, why does an ETF have to promise to maintain a constant leverage ratio? Couldn't it advertise that, after buying an index with some initial leverage, it will passively keep the same position size per share, allowing leverage to change with the market? (This is separate from adjusting for corporate actions or composition of the index itself.) As far as I know, it could, but this would be less useful to investors/traders for three reasons:

  1. Anyone buying or holding the ETF as time goes on would have to calculate and monitor its current leverage in order to determine the appropriate position size for their hedging or speculation goal. It's easier if name of the ETF tells you (to a good approximation) what the leverage will always be.

  2. If the ETF appreciates greatly, then without rebalancing, its leverage will decrease. Ultimately the leverage would approach 1x (unleveraged) for a "successful" long ETF or 0x (cash-like) for a "successful" short ETF. Then the ETF would lose its raison d'etre. In particular it will not turn, say 7% returns into 21% returns for the long term.

  3. If the ETF depreciates greatly, it will face internal margin calls and a significant chance of going bankrupt. Whereas a 3x daily-rebalanced fund would require a 33% drop in the index in one day to go bust, a non-rebalanced fund with initial 3x leverage would go bust if at any point there is a cumulative drop of 33% from inception. Realistically, before that point, margin calls would effectively force a rebalancing.

  • Suppose you have a net return on assets over some horizon of x%, with initial assets a and initial debt d. You end up with (1+x)a assets and debt d. Net worth to start was a-d. At the end it is (1+x)a-d. Gross return can be written 1 + xa/(a-d). Net return is xa/(a-d). Hence leverage a/(a-d) multiplies the net return. This is true regardless of horizon. The horizon is irrelevant if you don't rebalance.
    – Econ
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 13:43

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