ETFs Have First Net Outflows Since 2014

According to Cerulli research, investors purged assets from international equity and currency-hedged ETFs

Exchange-traded funds have ended their 23-month-long winning streak of positive flows, according to a new report from Cerulli Associates, a global analytics firm.

“ETFs snapped a streak of 23 straight months of positive flows dating back to January 2014, and bled $1.8 billion in January,” the report states. “While the outflows, combined with poor January market returns, led to a 4.7% drop in assets, ETFs still maintain more than $2 trillion in total assets.”

According to Cerulli, State Street is the only major player that lost significant market share, mostly as a consequence of its S&P 500 tracking ETF (SPY), which purged assets of $107 billion over the past year. Cerulli ranked the top ETF sponsors by assets as of January 2016, and State Street still came in at third – behind Vanguard (No. 2) and iShares (No. 1) – despite its major losses. Of the top-10 ETF sponsors, Guggenheim (No. 8) and PowerShares (No. 4) were the only other sponsors to suffer a drop in market share during the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, Deutsche X-Trackers tripled its market share over the past 12 months – from 0.3% in January 2015 to 0.9% in January 2016 – and comes in at No. 10 among the top ETF sponsors by assets.

Looking at ETF assets by asset class, Cerulli finds U.S. equity assets demonstrated a wide range activity over the past 12 months, with a high of $940 billion in December of 2015 and a low of $850 billion in September.

“Given that the three-largest S&P 500 tracking funds comprise 32% of all U.S. equity assets, it can be expected that there is a strong correlation between S&P 500 market value and U.S. equity assets,” the report states.

Meanwhile, international equity ETFs, which amassed more than $100 billion flows during 2015, slumped in January and purged $3.1 billion, according to Cerulli.

Cerulli says outflows were driven by diversified emerging market funds, which endured outflows of $3.6 billion over the past 12 months.

International equity’s slow start to 2016 was also driven by outflows from currency-hedged funds.

“The script flipped on many currency-hedged ETFs during the tail end of 2015,” the report states. “An array of macro-economic factors caused investors to become anxious about foreign equity exposure.”

A large portion of WidsomTree’s January outflows came from investors pulling funds from its Japan-hedged equity and European-hedged equity ETFs. According to Cerulli, these funds suffered outflows of $966 million and $810 million, respectively.

Cerulli finds that January's volatility forced many investors to seek shelter in Treasuries and gold.

Looking at flows into ETF portfolios for Janurary 2016, Cerulli finds that investors sought out safe investments.

“The first month of 2016 was marked with volatility, precipitating a flight to safety as demonstrated by the level of flows going into Treasury funds and SPDR's Gold Shares Fund,” the report states.

The SPDR Gold Shares fund captured $1.4 billion in January 2016, compared to the negative $2 billion in flows it saw last January.  

Four Treasury bond ETFs captured the top flows in January 2016. The iShares Short Treasury Bond ETF earned the top spot with the most flows, nearly $2.7 billion. iShares’ 20+ Year Treasury Bond, 7-10 Year Treasury Bond and 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETFs also made the top 10 list of ETF flows in January 2016.

According to Cerulli, oil showed signs of a turnaround. The United States Oil Fund saw $812 million in positive flows in January 2016.

“Investors, hopeful that the nadir had been discovered, were quick to pour money into the United States Oil Fund,” the report states.

Cerulli finds that utilities and consumer staples also benefitted amidst the turbulence, with flows of $938 billion and $807 billion, respectively.

Cerulli also ranked the top ETFs by assets for January 2016, and the SPDR S&P 500 ETF comes in at number one with $174.6 billion in assets, capturing 8.7% of market share. Coming in second and third respectively is iShares Core S&P 500 fund with $66.9 billion in assets and the iShares MSCI EAFE fund with $55.8 billion in assets.

The top-10 list features only one ETF that falls outside of the equity asset class—the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond Fund, which lands at No. 8 with $31.7 billion in assets. According to Cerulli, SPDR's gold-tracking ETF was a mainstay on the top-10 list until mid-2014 as a result of a dramatic sell-off, and, until recently, several fixed income funds could usually be found on the top-10 list.

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