What are ETFs and why have they become so popular as a way to invest in your favorite companies? These days, ETFs represent a multi-trillion-dollar industry.
In this episode, Toby Mathis of Anderson Advisors talks to William Rhind, founder of GraniteShares, an independent exchange-traded fund built for investors seeking simple, cost-effective access to differentiated investments. It is backed by leading fintech venture capitalists, such as Bain Capital Ventures and Clocktower Technologies.
William has built and managed businesses in the ETF market for almost his entire career and previously served as CEO of World Gold Trust Services, which is the largest commodity fund in the world.
- Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF): Fund listed like a share on the stock exchange that becomes new technology in the asset management space.
- Right Place, Right Time: People are embracing ETFs as a significantly low-cost alternative to mutual funds.
- Active or Passive Management: Mutual funds are active, ETFs tend to be passive.
- ETF Advantages: Low cost, and buy and sell whenever you want.
- Challenges for Investors: What is in the portfolio? What do you own? It’s a secret.
- Follow Index: The set of rules govern how the ETF has to be managed, how many shares must be included, what types of shares they are, and how often they rebalance.
- Management Fee: Small percentage of a fund’s assets that’s calculated on a manual basis and typically run from 0.17 to 0.7 percent.
- Some people still invest in mutual funds because the majority of mutual fund assets are held in 401(k) retirement accounts.
- GraniteShares: Focuses efforts on real assets, income, and large-cap equity investing.
- Wall of Worry: COVID crisis and economic collapse encourages as much investing and liquidity as possible.
- Moral Hazard: In the past, people that caused the banking crisis benefited from it. Now, people aren’t blaming banks or companies but specific people and countries.
Full Episode Transcript:
Toby: Hey, guys. This is Toby Mathis with The Anderson Business Advisors Podcast. I am lucky today to have Willian Rhind on. Welcome, William.... Read Full Transcript
William: Thank you, Toby. Good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Toby: William is kind of a Rockstar in the securities world. You started GraniteShares, right?
William: That’s right. I founded the company four years ago. We went live with our first funds three years ago actually last month. Been doing it a few years now.
Toby: Absolutely fantastic. First off, these are ETFs that you create, right?
Toby: And is it marketed primarily to professional-grade investors? Like they’re managing other people’s money? Or is it full-on anybody in the market could go get these?
William: That’s the beauty of the ETF structure, Toby, is that ETFs, for those that maybe don’t 100% know it, it stands for Exchange Traded Fund. The clue is really in the name here. It’s a fund that is listed like a share on the stock exchange. You buy it just like you would buy shares in Coca-Cola, IBM, or any company that you like, except instead of buying one share of one company, you’re buying a share in the fund that owns multiple companies, or maybe some other asset like gold or bonds. But really, they become the […] technology in the asset management space, if you will, and they’re a very, very popular way for people to invest now.
Toby: Now, a lot of folks are used to the old mutual fund and they’re used to being told that that’s where they’re going to invest. It seems to me that over the last few years, people are embracing ETF as a significantly low-cost alternative. Do you have any comments on that? Is that why you went to the ETF structure?
William: Yeah. I’ve been doing this almost all my career. I was a reformed investment banker. I did that for a year-and-a-half outside of college when I first joined the asset management industry. Luckily, I got involved in ETFs; right place, right time 20 years ago. I’ve been a part of this movement for my whole career, really. I can 100% tell you that this is in my mind the new technology. I think it’s easier to understand if you put it like that. The ETF is the new technology in the investing world versus a mutual fund which is the old technology or legacy technology.
There are few fundamental advantages the ETFs bring over the traditional mutual fund, which is why they’ve gained so much popularity and it’s now a multi-trillion dollar industry. One of the things you highlighted right off the vat there is (I think) just something that appears clear to everybody, which is lower cost. Typically, what ETFs have gained the reputation for is low cost investing.
Just like your Walmarts, your Amazons, and your big supermarkets that built a value proposition around low cost, that’s pretty much what ETFs have done to investing. From that perspective, a lot of people will name that benefit being the principal one. But low cost and buy and sell whenever you want. Probably the two that get highlighted most.
Toby: That gives them a distinct advantage over a mutual fund where you have soft dollar costs, tax drag, liquidity requirements, things like that. Does any of that exist in an ETF?
William: It depends on what ETF strategy is. But as a general rule of thumb, one of the things that ETFs do in terms of separating themselves from mutual funds is mutual funds tend to be the home of what’s called active management. Obviously active management for the most part was the cult of a personality, a particular team of individuals that we’re trying to outperform the market, and in doing that, charging large fees to investors for the privilege.
Obviously, after fees and most importantly, taxes, consistently, that strategy or the active management philosophy has just proved to be incredibly difficult to do. A lot of people went to ETFs. There are actively managed ETFs, but for the most part, they’re considered passive. Meaning, you’re just getting access to a portfolio of securities that tracks or replicates an index. Therefore, you don’t have staff on managers or active management and it just does what it says on the tin.
Toby: What you just said there, it does what it says on the tin is actually really […]. Can you even see what’s in a mutual fund when the thing actively matters? It’s really hard to see what’s even in there, right?
William: It’s really, really difficult. If one of the major challenges for investors is what is in the portfolio, what do you own? An active manager will say, that’s my secret sauce. If I tell you, then I don’t want people going out and buying these stocks themselves because that’s what you’re paying me for.
Obviously, with an ETF, one of the great benefits is complete transparency. From a regulatory perspective, by law, we have to publish the portfolio on a daily basis. We tell you exactly what we own, exactly what stocks. If it’s a bond fund, what bond. If it’s gold, what gold bars. On a daily basis. It’s complete transparency. Investors know on any given day, what exactly they know. Fancy that.
Toby: Why would anybody do it the other way?
William: Let me […] and say I want less transparency.
Toby: Somebody who’s taken the blue pill rather than the red one. This is where it gets interesting. You and I both went through 1999 in the recession, in 2008, and all those things. People who thought that they had a non-risk portfolio found out that they were exposed to the exact same things in a high-risk portfolio because they didn’t know what the heck that was in there. It’s basically just a marketing gimmick. In an ETF, I could see exactly what you’re investing in.
William: That’s right. You go to the website of any issuer, i.e. the fund manager, the provider. If you go on to the GraniteShares website, for example, which is our website, you could see for each of our funds what particular funds and what kind of underlying securities, stocks, et cetera, that we own on a daily basis. That’s the same for all providers.
Toby: And you’re still looking at it on a daily basis. We know the market’s doing all sorts of crazy stuff. It does backflips, it does high dives and all of that stuff. But you’re looking at it on a daily basis. This isn’t where you bought it three years ago. I never spent letting it ride. Do you guys change out the shares? Are you still looking at when you’re going to reduce a position, things like that?
William: Yeah. For the most part, most ETFs follow an index. An index is like a set of rules that govern the way that the fund has to be managed. It will cover things like how many shares have to be included in the fund, what types of shares are they, how often do they rebalance which is what we change out some shares and bring in new shares.
The main advantage to people is that it’s a recipe. Think of it as just a recipe. What we’re doing is following the recipe. The benefit of that to the investor is you don’t get any of these crazy situations where you get a manager taking a risk and doing something that ends up costing the fund and the investors a lot of money in terms of performance.
We stick to what the strategy is and the investor when they’re buying into the fund looks at the prospectus and the fact sheet, understands exactly what it is, and therefore can follow along with the investor strategy.
Toby: And they could buy into a fund today. If I had a Robin Hood, Schwab, or any account, I can […] GraniteShares ETF and I can just pick one, right?
William: Exactly right. Again, no different to any other stock that’s listed in the market that we all have ticker codes for our funds which should be exactly the same if you’re familiar with buying shares of Apple or whatever company. If you like gold, if you like income, if you like equities, any of the funds all have unique ticker codes. You literally go on to your Robin Hood account or your Schwab account, whatever you may do. You punch in that little ticker code and there you go, you can buy shares just as easily as any other stock.
Toby: I assume you guys get paid something to put the ETF together in the manager, right?
William: Yes, exactly. What we get paid is what’s called a management fee. The management fee is a small percentage of the fund’s assets. That gets calculated on a manual basis and people can look. Again, completely transparent. Most of our funds run from about 0.17% to the low end up to 0.7% at the high end in terms of a management fee.
Toby: I just want to put that in perspective. Some of these guys are used to listening to me […] along for a while, but mutual funds (according to Forbes) were somewhere between 4.8 and 5.8 when you actually calculate the actual expense of everything that’s involved in a mutual fund, including most management fees which aren’t oftentimes disclosed. You’re talking about less than 1%.
William: That’s right. I think the average for the industry here in the United States is somewhere around 0.2%–0.3%. It’s very, very low in terms of the amount that you pay for these investments.
Toby: So why does anybody do mutual funds anymore?
William: I don’t know, is the honest answer. I’ll give you one answer to that which is a real issue that people have, which is the majority of mutual fund assets were actually held in 401(k)s. Now 40(k)s, as most of you will know, are retirement accounts. Retirement accounts are typically offered by companies and therefore controlled by the company that you work for. Those 401(k) plans have a set menu of investments that you can invest in. Over the years, the biggest and largest mutual fund companies have controlled that market.
That means that the choices that you have as an investor if you’re a worker at a big corporation or even a smaller corporation might be pretty limited and they might be limited just to mutual funds. All of that will change over time but there hasn’t really been that incentive to change. As long as the big mutual fund companies are controlling the plans, there’s no incentive for them to move out to a lower-cost investment, which means lower revenue for them. The good news is it’s happening, but it’s not happening at a rate of change that one would expect given the ETFs, for the most part, are just a superior investment offering.
Toby: Yeah. Again, I’ve had that conversation with a number of folks. I tend to deal with fiduciaries. They tend to avoid mutual funds like the plague. But then, there are a few out there where their salespeople aren’t even necessarily securities folks. I think they may have a securities license, but they’re not fiduciaries for sure. They’re usually a broker just getting paid a commission to bring people in.
I’ve always asked them if you’re going to show me what the actual expenses are, I’d be glad to actually listen to you. Otherwise, I’m just assuming that you’re driving a business to your boss and that you guys are getting paid a lot of money off these people. They have 100% of the risk and you guys are taking most of the reward.
That can’t happen in your scenario. It sounds like you guys get paid basically to create the recipe and the cake is what the clients are putting the money in. They’re getting most of the cake. They’re getting 99% of the cake; 99.7% of the cake.
William: That’s exactly right. ETFs are no or zero commissioned products. It’s easy to understand in the context that we don’t actually have a relationship with the end-client directly because we are disintermediated, i.e., the middle man in our case is the exchange. The deal is we list our funds on the stock exchange and the investors buy and sell the shares from the stock exchange. There’s a bit of a spread, just like there is for any stock, but there’s not a commission, in the same way, the mutual funds, which obviously sell directly to the consumer or the adviser.
From that perspective, there’s no incentive to buy the product other than if it’s a good product, which is the way it should be.
Toby: Yeah. Nobody is pushing you into it and saying, hey, buy this car today because you’re on the Toyota lot. They happen to have a whole bunch of Corollas. They have no incentive to try to force you into something that they happen to be making more money on that particular day.
Let’s talk about the flavors of the cakes, so […] using analogies and now I’m hungry. We have to talk about the different types of cakes. You mentioned a couple. You had a gold, you had an income-producing. What are the flavors that you have out there in these ETFs?
William: There are three things where we do at GraniteShares as a business. The three vary the market we like, we like to focus our efforts on. Those are real assets. Gold, there’s our flagship fund and real asset space, but we have broad commodities, which is as it sounds just giving access to a broad basket of commodity features. Not only that, but we also have platinum. Again, the same as gold, just another precious metal that’s different from gold.
Outside of real assets, we have income. Our twist on income is we have a high-income investment strategy called HIPS. And HIPS stands for High-Income Pass-Through Securities. But now a twist on that income bucket is that a lot of people are getting income from the dividend stocks or from high yield bonds.
What we focus on is an area of the market called pass-through securities. Pass-through securities are just entities that don’t pay corporate tax. The most popular ones would be things like Real Estate Investment Trust (REITs), Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs), Business Development Companies (BDCs), or closed-end funds.
That’s an area in the market where they have an advantage from an income perspective already because they don’t pay corporate tax. They must distribute almost all of their income to investors. We create a diversified portfolio of those securities that give you a very high yield that’s paid monthly. That’s income.
And the last thing we do is we do large-cap equity investing, but we have a completely unique take on it. Our take on it is, remember the active management we’re talking about? We don’t like that because that involves discretion, involves human error, and it doesn’t work consistently over time. That’s the science, the philosophy of picking winners. Picking winners has been proven by many, many people to be incredibly difficult to do. That’s why a vast majority of active managers underperform.
Then, you have index replication, which is again, the philosophy of just owning the market, accepting underperformance, but paying very little for it. That’s the trade-off you’re making, saying, I’ll accept returns from the market, but in doing so, I’m giving up my chance to outperform, so I’m not going to pay anything for it. You’re very, very low cost.
Our twist is we think it might actually be easier to outperform the market by actually not focusing on picking winners but by excluding losers. We have the strategy called ex-out and science behind it is actually what a lot of people might not realize is that the vast majority of the return that comes from the stock market, major industries will be familiar with such as the DOW, the SMP, et cetera. Comes actually only from a small handful of stocks.
When you think about what you’re looking at the market and the market’s up 300 points, or is up 1% or 2%, it’s up 10% year-to-date. Actually, when you think about the composition of that 10%, it’s only a few companies that are driving it. Most people own those companies anyway. What we’re focused on is getting rid of companies that are detracting from that performance. We do that through the lens of technological disruption.
We want to own the companies that are fundamentally advantaged by technology and exclude those at a disadvantage. That’s our take on equity investing.
Toby: How have you guys been doing? Are your funds all doing pretty successful?
William: Yeah. Obviously, real asset space has been very, very popular. Gold, as you might imagine, is incredibly popular.
Toby: Because they’re printing cash fast. How much cash have they printed in the last […] of the market?
William: Trillions of dollars. Trillions and indirect and then now in terms of unfunded or promises, there are these trillions more. We just actually crossed a billion dollars in our gold ETF. Just a loan, actually, the last couple of days. We’ve really seen a demand for gold accelerate. In terms of the ex-out strategy, which is the equity fund, we’d been outperforming the markets, fortunately, since inception, but throughout this crisis, we’ve outperformed. Obviously that’s no guarantee to future performance, but for those who are interested, it seems to be working so far.
And then the income. Again, we’d been able to produce that steady income for investors that pays out monthly. While the underlying portfolio was affected by the market, just like everything else, what it did was increase the level of income. For people that are needing income, it’s an opportunity now to buy what you got a higher income than before because of the falling value of the underlying portfolio.
Toby: You’ve mentioned gold, but what’s the most popular thing that you see people running into in the crisis? We’ve seen these patterns before. I’m always interested to see what you guys are seeing from the institutional side is, where are people taking their money? Are they turning it into cash? Are they going into the gold? Are they going in some income-producing? Are they scared their debt at the market just keeps blowing up and it keeps going up and up? What are you seeing?
William: From what we see it’s undoubtedly gold is the biggest thing from our perspective. However, if we look back to the last crisis, income was a big one after the crisis. People use that opportunity after 2008 to buy income assets that have been beaten up in the crisis. People went out and bought high yielding income investments and took advantage of those depressed prices as things like the mortgage market have been beaten up.
Hopefully, we’ll see something like that this time around. Again, especially with 0% interest rates and who knows, it might get negative interest rates here sometime in the next 12 months.
Toby: Can you imagine that? The Fed is buying up the market right now. They’re active. I understand there’s BlackRock involved or anything like that. Are they actually buying up to securities or they’re just doing the mortgages again?
William: They’re buying up and propping up vast swaths of the market. They went further or have gone further than previously at the financial crisis and not just providing support to banks but actually buying corporate bonds. First through ETFs, but now they’re buying directly corporate bonds, which are really propping up vast sectors of the economy. That’s unprecedented; we haven’t seen that before.
Obviously, […] familiar with some of the programs that were put in place, where the government is actually giving money directly out to individuals. In all sorts of measures. Really, unprecedented measures to keep using that word to describe what’s happening because it’s very difficult, certainly in peacetime. There is no precedent for it.
Toby: Interesting. I can tell from your accent that you’re not from New York. You’re in the United States now, but what’s your history? What countries do you work in and what are your favorite places?
William: I’m from Scotland. I’m from a city on the North East Coast Scotland called Aberdeen. I grew up there. I went to college in England and went to University at a place called Barth which is in the South West of England. After college, I went to London which is obviously our capital city in the UK. It’s our New York if you will. Went into the finance sector, started with banking, and then got into asset management. I was there for the best part, half of my career.
With a previous company, I moved to New York to set up and run their US business for them. That’s what brought me to the States. I’ve been in New York ever since. Now, it’s been 11 years, my 11th year. They say after five years you’re a New Yorker. In that context, I certainly have done my share.
Toby: How is New York right now? People […] do things all year. We’re right after the pandemic, we’re at the later ends of June, but how is New York?
William: I think things are getting better. Clearly, as things start to open up, things will hopefully return to normal. It was pretty bad for a while, as you know. It was really that double whammy of first of all the pandemic. It was a very strange experience. Certainly, some of it myself comes from a foreign country, the city that never sleeps, you watch all the movies about New York, you know it so well even if you’ve only been there. Maybe you’ve never been there but you know it well enough already, and to see no shops open, no restaurants open, no bars open, there are no people on the streets, it was very, very strange. And then, obviously, the civil unrest that came after that is equally as scary. It certainly has been a really bad few months but hopefully, now, things just start to open up and get back to normal.
Toby: Hopefully we do. It seems like the market shrugs off everything and says, I’m going to keep going up. I think you call it the wall of anxiety or something.
William: That’s right. The phrase I’ve used before is climbing the wall of worry. Everybody is terrified that the market is going to collapse at any moment, but yet we keep grinding higher. That’s called climbing the wall of worry. It’s almost counterintuitive in a way, but it’s the same playbook that really happened after 2008.
If you could remember, 2008 was such a shock in the system. Everybody coming out of there said I’m not buying the market. No way. The economy is finished. There’s no way we can invest right now. Of course, exactly the wrong thing to do was to do that. The market went up and went on an 11-year bull market.
Now we’re seeing the same thing. The market collapsed in March, the government stepped in with a huge amount of stimulus, and that has really fueled this rally just like we saw in 2008. The government is willing to backstop this and put their faith and support behind the stock market. We’ll continue to see higher prices from here.
Toby: I don’t recall ever seeing the Feds step in as they’ve done. I’ve never seen a president push in focus so glaringly at the market and using that as a litmus test before. It was really interesting. You knew it was going to bounce back. We were looking at it saying maybe six months tops, but what do we know? We just look at it and it seems like they’re going to try to do everything they can to get this back before just before you take it off again.
William: If you think of the market almost like a business, if you take the whole market and say if you’re business you’ve got your revenue that’s coming in and you got revenue coming in from all sorts of sectors of the economy and suddenly you just shot that sector down or shot that economy down, then as a business, now you have to make up for that revenue that you’ve lost.
All the revenue from airlines, all the revenue from cruise ships, from hotels, all sorts of areas of the economy. That’s what the government is trying to do is step in and try and backstop some of that lost revenue that clearly has been lost as the economy shuts down. Hopefully, these things start to open back up again, we’re able to recover and get some of that back.
Toby: We just have to pay for it all now.
William: That’s right. Nothing comes for free, unfortunately. There is no free lunch.
Toby: Yeah. I’m just wondering what’s going to happen because they printed so much cash. It seems to me—again, I’m a neophyte and you’re a professional at this—that you’re going to have inflation, you’re going to have something.
William: The big difference now that people are talking about that is different from last time is, although we printed a lot of money last time—there were certainly a lot of people concerned about inflation—it was also, from a fiscal perspective, the banks never put that money into the market because fundamentally, it was a banking crisis. The money was given to the banks. The banks didn’t distribute it. It never trickled down. I heard that phrase used a lot in the economy.
This time, it’s different because the government wants to encourage as much investing, as much money as possible, liquidity as possible into the economy. I think this is different that you’ve got willingness on both sides of the aisle, both political parties to support stimulus.
Again, it was funny because I was looking at some of the political polls, given that we’re coming up to the presidential election at the end of this year. It’s worth remembering that last time around in 2008, the majority of people in the Republican side were actually opposed to stimulus. Remember such a thing as the tea party? That’s gone and actually now, both political parties’ stimulus all the way. The medium voter shift as the left. The medium voter is the price maker (if you will) and the politicians are the price takers.
That is filling this stimulus. From that perspective, it seems like that’s what people are willing to do. If that continues, you have to think that there’s probably a higher chance you get inflation, certainly a weaker dollar. Which is why a lot of people are interested in gold.
Toby: Yeah. Seems like it makes sense. Last time, it seemed like you gave the bad actors the money, the banks that arguably got us into a lot of their troubles in the meltdown. They were pushing the mortgages, everything else, ended up getting the money and they kept it.
William: That’s right. There’s a moral hazard because clearly the moral hazard last time, as you say, the people that caused the crisis ended up benefiting from it. But it was really confined to banks. Some people obviously argue that Detroit, another past economy with special cases where people got bailed out they shouldn’t have, but for the most part, it was banks. This time around, clearly, it’s been much, much more than banks. For the most part, people haven’t blamed any companies or any sectors. It’s just been something that this is a health crisis.
Toby: They’re blaming China now. They like to blame China.
William: Yeah, exactly. What it does is it creates a moral hazard across because you’re now going to get more zombie companies, that maybe it was a business that wasn’t doing particularly well before the crisis, but the crisis has just pushed them over the edge. Some people, as we’ve seen here have gone bankrupt, but there’ll be a lot of companies that will continue to exist just by shuffling around borrowed money, and that’s not particularly healthy for the economy.
Toby: Got to be careful. You got to use common sense in this thing and not just follow the herd. What was the company that was going bankrupt and everybody was buying it?
William: Yeah. It’s ridiculous. Ridiculous behavior.
Toby: Explain what bankruptcy means to them.
William: This is a phenomenon of these ultra speculative scenarios where, as you say, you have […] was in trouble before the crisis, that the crisis really pushed them over the edge and the company is bankrupt. Yet the stock still continues to trade. I think at one point, they try to back above that previous high market cap just on pure speculation. That’s just crazy.
Toby: Yeah. Maybe they get bailed out by somebody, somehow, some way. Then again, the markets have never really followed much logic in my brain. I always look at it and say, hmm. Sometimes it seems pure emotion. Do we have a lot of the new day traders who are just trying to get rich quick, make some pretty aggressive trades, and hope to benefit from it? Is that what you guys also see?
William: Yeah. I think that’s been a big part. Got a lot of publicity. There tends to be a lot more speculative activity and I think that’s largely because a large part of the institutional market is absent from this recovery. I’m seeing some of the most famous investors in the world standing up and publicly saying, we were wrong. We missed this. We didn’t see this recovery coming at the stock market, coming back so quickly. Until now, the retail investor, those speculative day traders have been very active in the market by all accounts. There’s certainly something that typically happens when you get a market that’s a bit frothy as you get much more speculative activity.
Toby: Very volatile scares the pants off of me. I could never be a day trader. I could never gamble either. I live in Las Vegas and […]. You sit me at a […] table, I can’t wait to get away. Not my thing.
I really appreciate you coming out. I know that we talked about having you come in and do some more deep dive into the income-producing. I would love to do that sometime.
William: It’d be great.
Toby: It’s really cool to get to talk to somebody who puts these things together because a lot of people think it’s some weird dark corner of Wall Street and they’re like, here’s what we’re going to offer out. It’s guys like you that are putting these things together with your company creating. I love the way you said it’s a recipe. You’re following a recipe, you’re following rules, you’re applying those rules, and you’re transparent about what those rules are. Anybody can look right over your shoulder and you’re not beating them over the head like I made off. You said I have the secret trading function. That’s why I’m getting these huge returns. You’re not playing that. You’re saying this is exactly what we’re doing.
William: We’re very transparent and fundamentally it’s an ideas business. Meaning that we’re only as good as the investment ideas that we create. Again, in a pure capitalist system, there’s nobody propping else up. If we launch funds that people don’t want to buy or that they think are rubbish, then we’re not going to be around. It’s a pure ideas business just like any good manufacturing company should be, which is you’ve got to produce things that capture people’s imagination and that creates a real need. That’s hopefully what we’re trying to do.
Toby: That’s absolutely fantastic. I love having you on. William Rhind, GraniteShares. They can go look you up. Do you have a website at Zoom?
William: We do, graniteshares.com. We’re also on LinkedIn, on Twitter, just @graniteshares. Hopefully, we’re pretty visible, but please come and ask us questions and reach out to us anytime.
Toby: Fantastic. Thanks, William.
William: Thanks, Toby.