January 29, 2013
What ETF Managers Do

My recent stories in the Wall Street Journal - “What ETF Managers Do" and "ETF Managers Don’t Buy and Sell Securities. Usually.” - helped me put the role of the ETF manager (or index manager) in perspective. They are very driven by process and mandate as security selection, for the most part, has been removed from the position.

Instead, they must consider the margin of every move that they do have to make and how that will positively or negatively affect tracking difference.

November 8, 2012
The Arrival of Bond ETFs

In a recent piece for Pensions & Investments, I highlighted a $1.4 billion underlying-for-ETF trade made in 4 iShares ETFs. The trade was discussed by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink at a September conference and again by the head of iShares in October. This not so subtle signal was a call-out to large institutions that bond ETFs are the new dealers.

With dealer inventory down significantly since 2008, corporate debt investors will increasingly find that their path to liquidity is through an ETF (and, of course, its management fee.) In the article, I also point to a recent study by The TABB Group which concludes that price discovery and liquidity of corporate bonds through ETFs could hasten the shift to more transparent and electronic bond exchanges.

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Filed under: ETFs 
October 25, 2012
Going Mainstream

While I’m still keeping up  ETFolution at Forbes, I’ve been tied up by a few big stories and other projects.

The first was a profile in Forbes magazine on Reggie Browne, the head of ETF trading at Knight Capital. Reggie has spent most of his career trading derivatives and now ETFs. At Knight, along with his business partners, he has built a business that surrounds ETFs and is looking to grow along with the success of the structure. While securities trading shrinks, Reggie’s expectation is that the market for ETFs will continue to grow. Despite recent fund closures, inflows into ETFs are on a record pace in 2012.

Next, I helped put together a feature and data package on ETFs for the Wall Street Journal. Trying to identify five trends that would rule the ETF market for the next five years was a tough assignment, but I think we’ve hit on some consensus. Read the story for details, but one aspect that I didn’t add was a mix of new entrants and consolidation of smaller firms. Financial services, over time, tend to consolidate as technology increases competition and reduces margin.

The ETF market is experiencing these phenomena in earnest right now.

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Filed under: ETFs 
September 5, 2012
ETFs Come in All Shapes and Sizes

In the media, we love to mark beginnings and endings. We are quick to make predictions and fast with “I told you so.” In between, not so much.

Ever since exchange-traded funds were introduced in 1993, media and finance types have been predicting the rise/fall of ETFs relative to mutual funds and even stocks. Telling the story of ETFs, and the struggles between/among providers, has been chalked up to “inside baseball,” as I’ve been told.

My latest article and infographic in the Wall Street Journal and a few recent stories in Barron’s and The Financial Times serve up a product market in transition. While there may be close to one thousand ETFs in the U.S. market that are not economically viable, such small products make up a tiny segment of all assets in ETFs. (28% of SPY by assets.)

But there’s no reason that any one of these thousand little guys can’t make it in its own right or stay afloat longer than the media would like for a good story.

The financial product market is in constant transition. Yesterday’s top hedge fund is today’s implosion and tomorrow’s genius. That the ETF market is one of whales and minnows is only a footnote to the macro trend.

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Filed under: ETFs 
August 21, 2012
The Pimco Total Return Series

Over a year ago, the asset management world got a wake-up call from Pacific Investment Management. Pimco, as the company is known, announced it would roll out the Pimco Total Return ETF to complement its flagship fund.

Those of us who follow investment product trends all perked up. See “The Other Side of Active ETFs" for my take at the time.

I recently followed up at The Wall Street Journal with Pimco COO Douglas Hodge, as the company takes a victory lap on the Total Return ETF and re-ups with other notable funds. 

Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time gauging the macro effects of Pimco’s move and will write more on ETFolution at Forbes.com. In the meantime, I’m going to start gathering some links here on my coverage (and others) on Pimco and active exchange-traded funds: