If there’s one thing traders love, it’s volatility. Large price swings create opportunities for nimble traders to time the market by buying low and selling high.
Take the stunning run-up in the U.S. stock market at the beginning of the year, followed by the precipitous drop in stock prices on Monday, when the S&P 500 fell by 3.3%, its worst single-session decline in two years. Those are the types of moves that traders dream of.
All that trading activity is showing up in ETFs, and the best way to see it is through volume. Volume measures the number of shares of a security that trade in a given period. When trading activity increases, that is reflected in rising volume (and vice versa).
Ranked by volume, the most actively traded securities include popular stocks like Microsoft, Apple, Advanced Micro Devices and General Electric. But they also include popular ETFs, many of which trade tens of millions of shares per day.
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Take the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM). It traded an average of 71.7 million shares per day on average during the last 30 days. For comparison, Ford—the most actively traded stock within the S&P 500—traded an average of 65.3 million shares in that same time frame.
EEM isn’t the only ETF traders love. The SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF), the Invesco QQQ Trust (QQQ) and the iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA) are a few heavyweights that routinely trade more than 20 million shares per day.
In many cases, these heavily traded funds aren’t the cheapest ETFs in their category, nor do they have the most assets under management. Instead, they’re often older, established funds with liquid options markets underlying them—characteristics that appeal to traders.
Indeed, there are several cases where ETFs that are small in terms of assets have huge amounts of volume. For instance, the iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX) only has $1 billion in AUM, but it trades a whopping 48.2 million shares per day, making it the third-most-traded ETF on the market.
Top 15 Volume Leaders
30-Day Avg Volume
Likewise, the ProShares UltraPro Short QQQ (SQQQ) and the iShares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (UVXY) have less than $2 billion in assets between them, but they each trade more than 19 million shares per day.
Those aren’t the only funds punching above their weight. The VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), the iShares China Large-Cap ETF (FXI), the SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (XOP) and the United States Oil Fund LP (USO) all have outsized volumes compared with assets.
Of course, simply measuring the volume of shares that trade hands for a particular ETF doesn't tell the whole story. All else equal, cheaper-priced funds tend to have more shares traded because investors can simply buy more for a given amount of money.
Dollar volume—which measures the number of shares traded multiplied by the share price—gives a more complete view of how much money is exchanging hands in a security.
At the top of the list, the picture changes a little with this new measure. The SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) becomes the top dog, with $21.6 billion worth of shares trading hands each day, far ahead of any other fund. The Invesco QQQ Trust (QQQ), the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) and the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) follow suit, with more than $2.7 billion worth of shares traded daily.
Impressively, the ProShares UltraPro QQQ (TQQQ) also makes the cut for this list, with $2 billion worth of shares trading each day despite only having $5.8 billion in assets.
The iShares China Large-Cap ETF (FXI), the VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX) and the iShares MSCI Brazil ETF (EWZ), with dollar volumes of more than $1 billion each, are also punching far above their weight, thanks to strong popularity with traders.
Top 15 Dollar-Volume Leaders
30-Day Avg Dollar Volume