One of the bright spots in U.S. markets over the past few years has been ETFs, whose assets have grown at almost 30% a year since 2005 and now total well over $1 trillion. In its most basic form, an ETF is an open-end fund (typically tracking an index) that trades on an exchange. It has a unique creation and redemption process for primary transactions and provides daily transparency of holdings. Introduced in the U.S. 18 years ago, ETFs have been steadily gaining traction among investors and advisors, so that, according to Morningstar, they generate up to 40% of exchange trading volume.
According to the Rydex|SGI AdvisorBenchmaking survey conducted this spring, the popularity of ETFs is being driven by a variety of factors. Among the key benefits is affordability, as ETFs provide relatively cost-effective market exposure compared with actively managed mutual funds or even index mutual funds. Morningstar reports the 10-largest ETFs in the country charge an average fee of 0.26%, compared with 1.5% charged by the average actively managed mutual fund.
Lower fees was the most commonly cited reason for using ETFs, named by 47% of advisors surveyed, followed by ETFs’ ability to provide exposure to specific benchmarks, cited by 44% of advisors. About a third of advisors said they favored ETFs either for their trading or transparency advantages.
The features of ETFs are attractive, but what do they do for clients’ portfolios? According to the survey, advisors implement ETFs in their clients’ portfolios for a variety of reasons, led by the goal of gaining “core” exposure, which was cited by 26% of survey participants. Other reasons included sector plays (named by 14%), alternative exposure (11%) and as a portfolio “satellite,” that is, a complement to a core holding (10%). The survey confirms that ETFs provide advisors and investors with attractive options for expressing their views, which has helped generate strong, consistent growth for these vehicles.