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Friday, November 13, 2009

Has the ETF Tide Turned?

Reported by Patricia Kelly

With ETF assets tipping the scales at over $600 billion, the record growth in the popularity of the funds over the past five years has continued relatively unabated. Yet with nearly 768 ETFs listed in the U.S. as of 2009, of which 68 have been launched since January, some ETF sponsors are beginning to take a closer look at the vehicle.

A new Cerulli study, for which the firm surveyed ETF sponsors' views of the funds' future, found that 50 percent of sponsors maintain a positive outlook and believe ETFs will continue to grow exponentially, while 40 percent of sponsors have adopted a more conservative outlook, anticipating that growth will be more tempered going forward but still trump the growth of index and actively managed mutual funds.

Still, ETFs aren't losing any popularity contests yet among their providers. Half of the sponsors surveyed in the report forecast that investors will pick ETFs over mutual funds.

The report estimates that just less than one-third of ETFs are held by institutions, which tend to favor sector-specific ETFs like SPDRs or gold products. Retail investors, the report's authors conclude, are drawn to fundamental indexing products or niche products that may favor specific countries or regions and real estate funds. Despite their title, 'niche' ETFs actually account for a sizeable $177 billion in assets.

The substantial number of ETFs might lead one to believe that the market has made room for many small and diversified players but don't be fooled. According to Cerulli, over 85 percent of ETF assets are held by the three largest sponsors: Barclays Global Investors (i.e. iShares, which will soon be part of BlackRock), State Street Global Advisors, and Vanguard.

In the meantime, new ETF product development continues and increasing numbers of investors are falling under ETFs' spell. 

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