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Portfolio > ETFs

Vanguard Launches Its First Actively Managed US ETFs

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Almost nine months after it filed updated registration documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Vanguard has launched its first factor ETFs in the U.S. along with one factor-based mutual fund.

They are “aimed primarily at financial advisors and institutional investors” whom Vanguard believes “understand the risks of potential underperformance and can effectively incorporate factor funds into their portfolios,” according to a statement from CEO Tim Buckley.

(Related: Vanguard Preps to Offer Actively Managed ETFs)

Altogether Vanguard launched seven funds — five single-factor ETFs, each with a 13 basis-point expense ratio, and one multifactor ETF and one multifactor fund, charging 18 basis points each.

The single-factor ETFs are focused on value, quality, momentum, liquidity and minimum volatility. All the funds are managed by Vanguard’s Quantitative Equity Group, its internal active equity manager that oversees more than $39 billion in assets.

(Related: Vanguard, Passive Giant, to Roll Out First Active ETFs in US)

Vanguard considers the new funds part of its actively managed fund offerings but ones with a “differentiated approach — disciplined, rules-based [with] targeted exposures to factors — along with Vanguard’s low costs,” according to Buckley’s statement.

Ben Johnson, director of global ETF research at Morningstar, says the funds are “nominally active,” using a “rules-based, quantitatively driven strategy,” not one where portfolio managers are focused on qualitative analysis of individual companies and their stocks.

He says the fund launch represents “an interesting, important development but isn’t earth-shattering” and continues an approach to active management that Vanguard has already introduced in the U.K. and Canada.

Along with the new funds, Vanguard introduced an online Education Center to provide product information, research and education on factor funds and factor investing, underscoring the company’s “commitment to financial advisors,” said Tom Rampulla, managing director of Vanguard Financial Advisor Services in a statement.

FAS is now the firm’s largest business with $1.7 trillion in assets, accounting for a little more than one-third of its total assets of $4.9 trillion.

(Related: Can Vanguard Pull Off Actively Managed ETFs?)

Todd Rosenbluth, director of ETF and mutual fund research at CFRA, says the new Vanguard funds “provide advisors with a low-cost, compelling approach to strategies they are increasingly embracing, such as value and momentum.”

They are competitively priced with some other factor ETFs such as iShares’ value, quality and momentum factor ETFs, which each charge 15 basis points, but as fees draw closer to zero they will not be the deciding factor that differentiates one fund from another, says Johnson. “What matters more will be the underlying strategy,” he says, noting that the strategy is what will drive performance.

But Eric Balchunas, senior ETF analyst, Bloomberg Intelligence, says in an email that he’d bet the new Vanguard funds will be “successful even if they underperform. That’s how cost-obsessed investors are and that’s how many fans Vanguard has.” He views the fund launches as a “game changer for the active ETF category because they are charging 0.13% in a category where the average fee is 0.80% and in an era where cost is king.”

When asked if Vanguard has plans for more factor ETFs, a Vanguard spokesman said he could not comment on future fund initiatives but noted that the exemptive relief it has obtained from its SEC filings “allows for similar ETFs to be offered in the future.”


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