What to Look for in ETFs in 2018

During the year, 275 new products were launched and 136 products were delisted, according to research firm XTF. The announced acquisition by Invesco Ltd.’s Invesco PowerShares of Guggenheim Investments’ ETF business has brought the slow but steady consolidation toward the top of the ETF pyramid. The fourth-largest issuer at $177 billion in assets, when combined, will still trail State Street Corp.’s State Street Global Advisors ($567 billion), Vanguard Group ($851 billion) and BlackRock Inc. ($1.35 trillion). Additionally, three issuers-Global X, Goldman Sachs and Exchange-Traded Concepts-experienced more than 100% asset growth in 2017, according to Toroso Asset Management.

… 5. Active management is redefined. Even supporters of actively managed stock funds argue that active vs. passive/indexing can be boiled down to high cost vs. low cost. (And, yes, there is high-cost passive in some areas of the market.) Now, Vanguard is gearing up to blow a hole in the active/passive distinction by introducing low-cost, actively managed ETFs in the first quarter—index funds with that will home in on areas of the market recently ruled by the smart-beta crowd—namely momentum, value and minimum volatility, among others.

Stealth socialism

“Passive” investment vehicles, like those low-fee index funds, now soak up enormous amounts of cash. In America, since 2008, about $600 billion in holdings of actively managed mutual funds (which pick investments strategically) have been sold off, while $1 trillion has flowed into passive funds. So the passive funds now hold gargantuan ownership stakes in large, public firms. That makes for some awkward economics. Research by Jan Fichtner, Eelke Heemskerk and Javier Garcia-Bernardo from the University of Amsterdam tracks the holdings of the “Big Three” asset managers: BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street. Treated as a single entity, they would now be the largest shareholder in just over 40% of listed American firms, which, adjusting for market capitalisation, account for nearly 80% of the market (see chart).