Inverse ETFs: What They Are & How They Work

Benny Ha

“Inverse ETFs: What They Are and How They Work” are important for investors to know if they are interested in using contrarian strategies when stocks start to drop and are expected to continue doing so.

In this article, “Inverse ETFs: What They Are and How They Work,” you will learn about inverse ETFs and how to use them. The following will be covered:

  • What an Inverse ETF is and how it works
  • The Types of Inverse ETFs
  • Benefits & Risks of Inverse ETFs
  • Bottom Line: Should you invest in Inverse ETFs?

This article, “Inverse ETFs: What They Are and How They Work,” provides information about such ETFs that stock investors can use when considering what investment decisions they want to make.

What is an Inverse Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) & How Do They Work?

An inverse ETF is a fund that uses financial derivatives such as a futures contract to profit from a market decline. In a futures contract, an investor agrees to buy a security at a specific price and time. Essentially, investors who buy inverse ETFs are betting on the stock market going down.

Oftentimes, inverse ETFs are compared to what short-sellers do because they are also borrowing securities, selling them and hoping to buy those securities back at a lower price to profit from that downward price movement. The profit is the difference between the sell price and the purchase price after the price decline. If the market declines in favor of the investor, the inverse ETF is intended to increase in value by the same percentage.

Exclusive  Reaching Out and Communicating With This ETF

The ProShares Short S&P 500 ETF (SH), for example, is the second-largest inverse ETF. It tracks the inverse of the S&P 500 and gives investors “reverse” exposure to large-cap stocks in the United States.

Investors who are betting against this index doing well potentially may want to add this ETF to their investment portfolio and monitor it closely. Depending on the specific inverse ETF, exposure to the index is reset either daily or monthly. SH, for example, is reset on a monthly basis.

Types of Inverse ETFs

So far, we have discussed only one type of inverse ETF, which is the conventional type that tracks and shorts an index on a one-to-one basis. However, there are many inverse ETFs that also short indexes on a two-to-one or even a three-to-one basis. Similar to the concept of leveraged ETFs, there are leveraged inverse ETFs in which financial derivatives are used to compound the potential gains of an investor.

For example, ProShares UltraPro Short QQQ is a -3x leveraged inverse ETF that tracks the Nasdaq-100 index. If the Nasdaq-100 is down 2% on a given day, the return for an investor holding that short ETF would have a profit of 6%.

Furthermore, there are also inverse ETFs that track specific industries. Thus, if investors believe that there will be a market correction in the semiconductor industry, for example, they can buy SOXS, which is a -3x leveraged inverse ETF that tracks the ICE Semiconductor Index.

Below is a short list of -2x and -3x leveraged inverse ETFs:

  • SDS – ProShares UltraShort S&P 500 (-2x)
  • SPXU – ProShares UltraPro Short S&P 500 (-3x)
  • SPXS – Direxion Daily S&P 500 Bear 3x Shares (-3x)
  • TZA – Direxion Daily Small Cap Bear 3x Shares (-3x)
  • SDOW – ProShares UltraPro Short Dow30 (-3x)
  • QID – ProShares UltraShort QQQ (-2x)
  • SOXS – Direxion Daily Semiconductor Bear 3x Shares (-3x)
  • DXD – ProShares UltraShort Dow30 (-2x)
Exclusive  Going the Distance with SPTL


Benefits and Risks of Inverse ETFs

For investors who closely monitor and predict the decline in the stock market’s direction, inverse ETFs can definitely be a powerful tool for them. However, retail stock investors must understand that inverse ETFs are generally used as hedging tools rather than long-term investments like most conventional ETFs.

For example, if an investor is holding a position in the electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), and he expects the stock to fall, SH could be bought to use an inverse ETF that shorts the S&P 500. If the investor is correct, the acquisition of the inverse ETF will have helped them reduce their losses from TSLA. Furthermore, the purchase of SPXU, which is a -3x inverse ETF for the S&P 500, in the same situation would have reinforced the safety net against the decline in the stock and perhaps even resulted in a net gain.

However, incorrect predictions could be costly, especially if leveraged inverse ETFs are involved. Using the same example as above, imagine if SPY went up 10% in one day, and an investor held a position in SPXU. That would lead to a 30% loss, as well as a net loss of 40% compared to the market.

Despite the market being up, the investor still lost significant money. These risks are compounded by the fact that the stock market historically goes up far more frequently than it goes down.

This makes inverse ETF investing much more difficult than regular investing. Thus, inverse ETFs are a high-risk, investing tool for investors who believe that the market will follow a downward direction on a given day, especially if leveraged.

Exclusive  Invest in Media and Entertainment with This Fund

Bottom Line: Should You Invest in Inverse ETFs?

Inverse ETFs are funds that short an index and can be a helpful tool for hedging against potential losses or profiting from the market when it’s doing badly. Like any investment, investors must monitor inverse ETFs very closely to time their exit well to prevent losses.

These ETFs are short-term investments and often are used by professional, experienced investors because of the level of risk involved with trading them. It requires much research and experience to correctly predict the direction of a market and it still can go the opposite way. Therefore, retail investors who don’t want to spend time doing their research on a given index or are uncomfortable with the risk should avoid investing in inverse ETFs.

share on:

Like This Article?
Now Get Mark's FREE Special Report:
3 Dividend Plays with Sky-High Returns

This newly-released report by a top-20 living economist details three investments that are your best bets for income and appreciation for the rest of the year and beyond.

Get Access to the Report, 100% FREE

share on:


Dr. Mark Skousen

Named one of the "Top 20 Living Economists," Dr. Skousen is a professional economist, investment expert, university professor, and author of more than 25 books.

Product Details

  • Forecasts & Strategies
  • Home Run Trader
  • Fast Money Alert
  • Five Star Trader
  • TNT Trader

Bryan Perry

A former Wall Street financial advisor with three decades' experience, Bryan Perry focuses his efforts on high-yield income investing and quick-hitting options plays.

Product Details

  • Cash Machine
  • Premium Income PRO (exclusively for subscribers of Cash Machine)
  • Quick Income Trader
  • Breakout Options Alert
  • Hi-Tech Trader

Jim Woods

Jim Woods has over 20 years of experience in the markets from working as a stockbroker,
financial journalist, and money manager. As well as a book author and regular contributor to
numerous investment websites, Jim is the editor of:

Product Details

  • Successful Investing
  • High Velocity Options
  • Intelligence Report
  • Bullseye Stock Trader
  • Eagle Eye Opener

Bob Carlson

Bob Carlson provides independent, objective research covering all the financial issues of retirement and retirement planning. In addition, Bob serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Fairfax County (VA) Employees’ Retirement System, which has over $2.8 billion in assets.

Product Details

  • Retirement Watch
  • Retirement Watch Spotlight Series
  • Lifetime Retirement Protection Program

Jon Johnson

Jon Johnson's philosophy in investing and trading is to take what the market gives you regardless if that is to the upside or downside. For the past 21 years, Jon has helped thousands of clients gain success in the financial markets through his newsletters and education services:

Product Details

  • Investment House Daily
  • Stock of the Week
  • Technical Traders Alert
  • Rapid Profits Stock Trader

Used by financial advisors and individual investors all over the world, is the premier provider and one-stop shop for dividend information and research.

Product Details

Popular tools include our proprietary Dividend Calendar, Dividend Calculator, Dividend Score Card, and many more.

  • Dividend Investor