Assets held in exchange-traded funds have increased this year, and executives expect a surge when more products are introduced this fall — if markets are ready for them.
Since Jan. 1, ETF assets have increased 11.1%, according to a monthly survey by State Street Corp. that was released Wednesday. In June ETF assets grew 1% from a month earlier, to $592.6 billion. "We are seeing some positive flows, and that is good news given that markets have been relatively flat over the past 12 months," said James Ross, a senior managing director at State Street.
Thirty-nine ETF portfolios were started in the year's first half, and 46 were liquidated, according to State Street. In June 12 funds were introduced.
Ross said that the development of new funds is starting to pick up after "coming close to halting" last fall during the credit crisis. Some fixed-income ETFs have already been launched this year, he said, and though he expects a slow July and August, he expects more to be introduced in September.
"We are starting to see some regrowth as investors are looking for new products," he said. "In June we saw $20 billion of positive flows into fixed-income ETFs, and there is some really strong demand for those products."
Some industry observers are less bullish. W. Christopher Maxwell, a managing partner at the Rock Hall, Md., wealth management firm Conestoga Capital Advisors LLC, said investment managers may have ETFs that have waited on their shelves for months but most companies would remain wary until markets really rebound. "ETFs may trickle out," he said, "but I don't expect a surge."
"Getting a new product off the ground is difficult, and in this environment it is nearly impossible, especially for ETFs," he said. "A couple of months is not going to change that."
Geoffrey Bobroff, the president of Bobroff Consulting in East Greenwich, R.I., said many investment companies have put product introductions on hold until the economy shows sustained recovery.
Barclays Global Investors' iShares unit remained the largest ETF provider at June 30, with $292.1 billion of assets — or 49.3% of the market, according to State Street. The company, which announced last month it had sold its investment unit to BlackRock Inc. for $13.5 billion in a deal expected to close this year, is trailed by State Street, which had $143.5 billion, or a 24.2% share, and Vanguard, which had $59.1 billion, a 10% share.
Cindy Zarker, a director at Boston's Cerulli & Associates, said she expects more actively managed ETFs to be introduced this year and, given BlackRock's history with actively managed mutual funds, it is likely to launch such products. Most new entrants are introducing actively managed products rather than index funds, she said.
Maxwell said he remains skeptical about actively managed ETFs.
Ross said introducing actively managed products can be difficult because they require Securities and Exchange Commission approval and, "right now, they have a lot on their plate" in regulating the financial services industry.
State Street applied to the SEC 15 months ago to introduce a series of actively managed ETFs. "I think we will see some more funds on the active side," Ross said, "but how many will depend on a lot of factors that companies just cannot control."