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The second quarter was, despite the overall market turmoil, a pretty solid one for the broad ETF industry. A handful of new funds hit the markets in a variety of industries while aggregate inflows for the quarter approached $20 billion, cementing the industry over the $1.1 trillion mark in terms of total AUM.
While the time period was undoubtedly an overall positive for the broad ETF world, a few funds certainly led the way in terms of asset accumulation. In fact, the seven biggest winners in terms of inflows accounted for nearly $11.11 billion in new assets combined (read The Five Best ETFs over the Past Five Years).
Interestingly, all of these funds are focused either on bonds or large cap stocks, giving investors some insight into how market participants have been positioning themselves over the past few months. As you can see in the chart below, clearly ‘safer’ bond ETFs have been in vogue, while more assets have also flowed into S&P 500-centric funds as well:
Furthermore, it is important to note that while LQD saw huge inflows, one of the most popular junk bond ETFs, JNK, was among the biggest losers of assets in the time period, hemorrhaging close to $1.2 billion in the time frame. Apparently, some investors focused in on the high quality space instead of the high yield market during the turmoil of the second quarter (read Seven Biggest Bond ETFs by AUM).
This trend is further reflected by the next two bond products on the list of the biggest winners, BND and BOND. While these two funds do have the ability to hold high yield bonds, they both focus on high quality or government debt, easily one of the key reasons why they saw so much interest over the past few months.
In terms of equity assets, the relatively safe VOO and SPY were among the biggest gainers while ETFs like QQQ, EEM and DIA, were the only three equity funds to lose more than $1 billion in assets during the second quarter. Curiously, QQQ and DIA also follow benchmarks of high quality companies but they are both heavily concentrated in just a few names, suggesting that diversification was a key theme for investors during the quarter (read Three ETFs with Incredible Diversification).
Lastly, investors should also note the interesting juxtaposition of the path of VWO and EEM, not only in this most recent quarter but over the past few years as well. VWO added nearly a billion dollars in assets in the time period while EEM lost about $2 billion (see The Guide to the 25 Most Liquid ETFs).
This might be somewhat curious given that both of the products track the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, offering similar exposure to a basket of (mainly) large cap stocks based in developing nations. However, VWO charges investors just 20 basis points a year in fees compared to 0.67% for EEM.
Thanks to this distinction, and the fact that both of the funds track the same benchmark, VWO has managed to become the top ETF in the emerging market space and is seemingly widening its lead on a monthly basis. In fact, VWO has actually added over $41 billion in the past three years while EEM has lost nearly $900 million in the same time frame, demonstrating just how important expenses are to some investors.
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Author is long VWO.