About 2 1/2 years ago, I first wrote about actively managed ETFs.
As I mentioned in greater detail then, for buy-and-hold investors ETFs can be substantially cheaper than mutual funds. That’s because mutual funds maintain their own high-cost distribution and recordkeeping networks, while ETFs use the much larger, and cheaper, infrastructure maintained by Wall Street brokerage firms. To pluck a number out of the air, the added value of the ETF route could be 50 basis points (0.5%) in annual return.
Active ETFs have never really taken off, though. That’s partly because start-up active ETFs can be illiquid, and therefore difficult to trade. And, again because of their small initial size, expense ratios can appear to be very high. In addition, large mutual fund groups have been reticent to launch active ETF clones of their mutual funds. Most firms don’t want to be pioneers. But also, if an associated ETF begins to trigger redemptions of a mutual fund, the fund’s expense ratio will begin to rise–presumably creating more momentum to redeem. That’s because the costs of distribution will be spread over fewer shares.
This may all be beginning to change.
As Factset reports, actively managed ETFs had large inflows for the first time ever in May.
Two things caught my eye:
–the Principal Financial Group launched an actively-managed, dividend-focused global ETF last month that took in $424 million, and
–ARK Investment Management, a small firm focused on “disruptive innovation” received $37.3 million in new money in its flagship ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK) + the ARK Industrial Innovation ETF (ARKQ) (Note: I’ve owned ARKW, the firm’s internet fund, for a long time). ARKK and ARKQ together had assets of $53.4 million at the end of April.
My first thought about the strong ARK showing was the attraction could be that the firm has been an early investor in the Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC). But ARKQ doesn’t hold it.
It’s noteworthy, too, that Principal should want to cannibalize its mutual funds–although it’s always better to cannibalize yourself than to have other firms do it.
We may be at a positive inflection point in the development of active ETFs. Good for innovation, if so. Bad for stodgy mutual fund complexes, at the same time.