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Negative Fee ETF Is a Credit Negative for Asset Managers: Moody's

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The Securities and Exchange Commission’s approval of the first negative fee ETF earlier this month may be good news for investors but not for asset managers.

Analysts at Moody’s Investors Service say the approval of Salt Financial’s Low truBeta U.S. Market ETF (LSLT), which rebates investors 5 basis points for quite some time, is a “credit negative for asset managers because it furthers the relentless march towards fee compression in the fund industry.”

LSLT will essentially pay investors 5 basis points until May 2020 or until the fund reaches $100 in assets, whichever comes first, as a result of the SEC decision. It had been charging 29 basis points beforehand since its debut in March.

(Related: First Negative-Fee ETF Approved by SEC)

The first negative-fee ETF on the market follows the introduction of several no-fee funds — two no-fee ETFs from SoFi that started trading in April, and four zero-fee mutual funds, two each introduced last August and September.

(Related: Fidelity Unleashes No-Fee Index Funds)

Moody analysts do not expect the Salt Financial ETF will “have a significant effect” on investment flows into and out of funds but rather “an important psychological consequence” that strengthens “the anchoring of ETF fees to around zero.”’

More asset managers are likely to set fees at zero, or slightly above or below zero, as a tradeoff for a specific gain, explains Stephen Tu, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s.

“Managers are opting to sacrifice on fees to gain something else,” says Tu. “For SoFi it is to build out its digital ecosystem; for Fidelity, it’s to build out its financial ecosystem. In the case of Salt Financial it’s for brand awareness and gain of market share.”

“Salt’s move is another sign of the coming commoditization of smart beta products and shows that fee compression in this market segment will continue,” according to the Moody’s report.

To date, Moody’s has a stable outlook on asset managers overall. Its 2019 credit outlook for the industry noted increasing weak demand and continued fee pressures but also resiliency.


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