Reasons to Short Sell an ETF

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) aren't necessarily the first type of financial instrument most investors would think about short selling. But because ETFs—collections of assets such as stocks, bonds, or commodities—are traded like stocks, they're relatively easy to sell short. And just like with stocks, selling short ETFs involves borrowing and then quickly selling shares of the fund with the expectation of being able to buy them back for a lower price than you sold them for.

Someone typically sells an asset short because they expect it to decline in value and they hope to profit from the completed trade, but there are other reasons you might want to short sell an ETF.

01
Hedging Downside Portfolio Risk

Bull and bear figurines on list of share prices
Adam Gault / Getty Images

If you have a substantial equity or fixed-income portfolio and want to protect against a drop in one or more stock or bond markets, selling short an ETF that includes a large number of stocks or bonds in the market or markets might be the way to go. For example, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust is an ETF that attempts to replicate, before management fees and other costs, the return of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, which tracks the performance of 500 large-company stocks that are listed on U.S. exchanges. For a portfolio that has diversified stock holdings from around the globe, a good choice to sell short might be the iShares MSCI ACWI ETF. This fund aims to match the performance of the MSCI ACWI Index, which consists of stocks from 23 developed and 26 emerging markets. If you have a large exposure to fixed-income securities in emerging markets, you might consider shorting the Invesco BulletShares 2024 USD Emerging Markets Debt ETF. If a decline in the particular stock or bond market or markets you were concerned about does come to pass, your short position in a broad-spectrum ETF would offset some of the losses on the individual securities you own.

02
Hedging Downside Sector, Industry, or Commodity Risk

If you're concerned about a decline in a particular sector, industry, or commodity, you could short sell an ETF that consists of stocks in a sector, such as health care, or an industry, such as biotechnology, or that has exposure to a commodity, such as crude oil. The Fidelity MSCI Health Care Index ETF, for example, has as its underlying index the MSCI USA IMI Health Care Index, which covers all industries within the health care sector. The VanEck Vectors Biotech ETF encompasses 25 stocks in the biotechnology industry. And USCF'S United States Oil Fund is a commodity ETF that uses oil futures contracts to attempt to reflect daily price movements in West Texas Intermediate light, sweet crude, minus the firm's expenses. 

03
Hedging Regional or Country Risk

If your portfolio has a good deal of exposure to a region or country, you might want to sell short an ETF that invests in that location. For instance, shorting the iShares MSCI India ETF would help offset your losses if Indian stocks took a dive. Alternatively, you could reduce risk by shorting a foreign currency ETF such as the Invesco CurrencyShares Swedish Krona Trust.

04
Hedging Derivatives

If you are trading ETF, index, or equity options, you can hedge long derivative positions by shorting a correlating ETF. (An options contract confers the right to buy or sell an underlying asset at a set price on or before a certain date. A call option gives you the right to buy the asset; a put option give you the right to sell the asset.) For example, if you are long (have purchased) call options on the PIMCO Active Bond ETF, you could hedge your risk by shorting that ETF.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.