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January 9, 2024

3 Best Practices for Trading ETFs

The battle between hedge funds and retail investors over shares of GameStop in early 2021 ignited one of the most drastic rallies and declines ever seen in a single stock. A hedge fund-driven short squeeze and the momentum of thousands of Reddit investors piling into the stock added fuel to the fire and even triggered trading halts. Since ETFs trade on an exchange, gyrations in the stock market and market-wide volatility can impact ETF trading and execution, but ETFs once again proved to be resilient. To help navigate the market frenzy, it’s always beneficial to revisit three trading best practices when it comes to ETFs. 

Use limit orders when trading ETFs

A market order may be effective when placing small trades in highly liquid ETFs, but there is a risk that it could be executed at an undesirable price, especially in highly volatile markets as witnessed in early 2021. A limit order lets you set the price at which you are willing buy or sell an ETF, helping you avoid paying more or selling at less than a desired price. However, with limit orders, there is a risk that your trade will not be executable at the specified price, so the closer your price is to the bid or ask, the greater the probability that your sell or buy will be executed.

Order TypeMarket OrderLimit Order
DefinitionBuy/Sell at best available priceBuy/Sell at a specified price or better
Price ControlNoneFull Control

Be mindful of market volatility

The market volatility surrounding the GameStop saga is a reminder to be mindful when trading during periods of heightened market volatility. When the market is erratic and underlying security prices are unpredictable, it can lead to a widening of an ETF’s bid-ask spread, causing the ETF to trade at a larger premium or discount than normal. In fast-paced environments, it may be more prudent to wait for volatility to subside before placing a trade.

Watch the clock with ETF trades

In general, it is recommended to avoid trading within the first and last 15 minutes of the trading day. This is because not all of an ETF’s underlying securities may have started trading within the first few minutes of the session, in which case the market maker cannot accurately price the ETF.

Also, it’s generally preferable to trade international-focused ETFs at times that coincide with the trading hours of the underlying securities’ local markets. For example, prices of ETFs trading in Europe tend to be more accurately priced and trade with narrower bid-ask spreads when their respective markets are open and overlap with European trading hours.

In some cases, it may not be possible to trade international ETFs when the underlying market is open (i.e. some Asian and European markets). In this case, market makers may use alternative methods to price an ETF when the underlying market is closed, such as futures contracts, to keep spreads from widening out significantly.

Source: CI Global Asset Management

While these are just a few tips, you can find more ETF trading best practices here. Additionally, whether you are looking to place a large ETF trade or get a better understanding of the implied liquidity of an ETF, it may be worthwhile to contact your brokerage platform or contact CI Global Asset Management for assistance.

About the Author

Nirujan Kanagasingam

Nirujan Kanagasingam, CFA

Vice-President, ETF Strategy
CI Global Asset Management

As Vice-President of ETF Strategy, Nirujan’s primary responsibility includes working with the various departments within CI GAM to set and execute the ETF Sales Strategy and help promote the growth of the ETF business. Nirujan’s responsibilities also includes overseeing the ETF Sales Support team where he works alongside the sales team in assisting investors and advisors on ETF education and support. Nirujan brings a wealth of ETF knowledge, including ETF product management, indexing, factor research, ETF portfolio development, and has been involved in the launch of many ETFs in the Canadian marketplace. Prior to joining CI GAM, Nirujan held progressively senior roles with global asset managers Invesco and Horizons ETFs, where responsibilities included product management, product development and sales strategy in both the Canadian and U.S market. Nirujan holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Finance and Accounting) from Ryerson University and is a CFA Charterholder.


Commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with an investment in exchange-traded funds (ETFs). You will usually pay brokerage fees to your dealer if you purchase or sell units of an ETF on recognized Canadian exchanges. If the units are purchased or sold on these Canadian exchanges, investors may pay more than the current net asset value when buying units of the ETF and may receive less than the current net asset value when selling them. Please read the prospectus before investing. Important information about an exchange-traded fund is contained in its prospectus. The indicated rates of return are the historical annual compounded total returns net of fees and expenses payable by the fund (except for figures of one year or less, which are simple total returns) including changes in security value and reinvestment of all dividends/distributions and do not take into account sales, redemption, distribution or optional charges or income taxes payable by any securityholder that would have reduced returns. ETFs are not guaranteed; their values change frequently, and past performance may not be repeated.

This document is provided as a general source of information and should not be considered personal, legal, accounting, tax or investment advice, or construed as an endorsement or recommendation of any entity or security discussed. Every effort has been made to ensure that the material contained in this document is accurate at the time of publication.  Market conditions may change which may impact the information contained in this document. All charts and illustrations in this document are for illustrative purposes only. They are not intended to predict or project investment results. Individuals should seek the advice of professionals, as appropriate, regarding any particular investment. Investors should consult their professional advisors prior to implementing any changes to their investment strategies.

Certain statements contained in this communication are based in whole or in part on information provided by third parties and CI Global Asset Management has taken reasonable steps to ensure their accuracy. Market conditions may change which may impact the information contained in this document.