When Grail Advisors officially closes two of its active exchange-traded funds — Technology and RP Financials — before the market bell on Aug. 30, the total universe of active ETFs will fall to just 28.
Grail's doomed ETFs certainly failed to cause any kind of market splash since they launched in October of last year.
In fact, after 10 months on the market, the two had garnered only a combined $5 million of assets.
But these active ETFs are in similarly lackluster company — of the 28 actively managed ETFs on the market (excluding quant, or rule-based, ETFs that rebalance periodically but aren't truly actively managed), around two-thirds of them account for less than $30 million of assets.
Active equity ETFs, of which there are 11, account for $100 million of assets all told, only a tiny portion of the $2 billion active ETF market, which is itself dwarfed by the total ETF universe of $815.4 billion, according to Morningstar.
That isn't to say all active ETFs are a flop.
Tom Graves, an ETF analyst with Standard & Poor's Equity Research, said that of WisdomTree's nine active currency ETFs, three of them hold more than $200 million of assets. In fact, the most successful active ETF is WisdomTree's Chinese currency ETF, which currently accounts for $600 million of assets.
Active fixed-income ETFs have also proved popular. Pacific Investment Management Co. LLC's MINT ETF, which invests in short-duration fixed-income assets, has $334 million of assets to date.
Despite their narrow inroads, Graves predicts active ETFs may yet find a broader footing.
"They don't provide a price advantage because of their increased trading and research costs," Graves said, "but I wouldn't be surprised to see a mutual fund company launch an active ETF that mirrors what it already has [on the mutual fund side]."
Another might be an actively managed fund of funds of equity ETFs, Graves said.