ETFs Continue Ascent


Boom, zoom, to the Moon.

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) continue their meteoric rise and usage among investors and after just two months into the second quarter, ETF flows are on pace to top $100 billion for the third straight quarter. Both equity and fixed income ETFs have attracted over $20 billion in cash and $10.7 billion, respectively in May, according to the most recent U.S. ETF Flash Flows report from State Street Global Advisors.

SSGA noted in the report that equity ETFs have now recorded seven consecutive months with over $20 billion of inflows.

Matthew Bartolini, SSGA

“2017 continues to be a banner year for ETFs,” Head of SPDR Americas Research at SSGA told Traders Magazine in an interview. “First quarter inflows notched a new all-time high, and now two months into Q2, flows are on pace to top $100 billion for the third straight quarter. From a headline perspective, it may look as if equity ETFs are the key cog in this well-oiled machine.”

In looking deeper into the numbers, Bartolini noted that while impressive, the $20 billion of flows amassed over the last month would have been halved, if it were not for the $10 billion plus of ETF inflows that occurred in the last five days of May. And while this $10 billion was deposited into equities over the final days of the month, U.S. focused funds were the beneficiary of 99% of that total.

“This frenetic action underscores the unpredictability of this current market, where sentiment ebbs and flows with each tweet,” he said.

But just as important as equity ETFs, and certainly not to be left out, are bond backed funds. In four of the last five months, bond ETFs have posted double digit monthly fund inflows.

“However, while their (equity) flows are impressive, fixed income is once again the little engine that could,” Bartolini said. “The steady fashion in which investors are allocating towards fixed income ETFs indicates that market dynamics, while important, are playing less of role, and investors are gravitating towards the structure as way to obtain bond exposure.”

So where in equities is all the cash going?

“May flows are not just a U.S. story; rather the protagonist comes from across the Pond,” Bartolini explained. “International exposures have been all the rage in 2017, taking in over $60 billion to date, or essentially half of the year’s totals for the equity category, even though those funds only equate to just 26% of overall assets.”

But the real story is where on the international scale those flows are going, he added. Europe has been of interest, with over $9 billion deposited in just the last three months alone. And this extends beyond just ETFs. Citing Morningstar data, Bartolini said emerging market focused ETFs and mutual funds have recorded inflows for 21 consecutive weeks – their best run since 2012 when they eclipsed 25 straight weeks.

“The outlook for emerging markets, where valuations are attractive and ‘greenshoots’ of growth are visible, suggests this streak may continue, as even the latest political scandal in Brazil did not slow this trend,” Bartolini said.

On the sector level, Technology ETFs amassed over $1 billion of inflows in May, raising year-to-date flows to over $5 billion.  Financials and Materials experienced net outflows for the second consecutive month, as investors withdrew -$1.2 billion and -$2.3 billion, respectively.

“Beyond technology, there was little else in the way of strong sector based inflows,” he said. “For all of those investors that jumped on the ‘Trump Trade’ right after the election, they are witnessing their comrades start to jump off the train.  Sectors such as financials and materials are in net outflows over the last month – their second consecutive month of outflows – as rates and inflation have trended sideways. With positioning turning negative for financials, an opportunity may be developing as earnings are strong and valuations remain attractive for the sector, based on Price-to-Book.”

As far as top ETF issuers, SSGA data report that BlackRock and Vanguard were on top again in May, continuing their dominance seen since January. BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard hold more than 80% of the market for exchange-traded funds, leaving remaining ETFs facing increasingly tough competition.


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