ETF assets climbed to a new all time record in April according to the latest data from the National Stock Exchange, with a total of $1.14 trillion in more than 1,200 products at the end of last month. Total assets grew by more than 5% on the month, thanks to stellar performances from equities and commodities and another strong month of inflows. In total, more than $22 billion flowed into ETFs in April, representing more than 2% of March assets. U.S equities accounted for about half of the monthly inflows, with global equities and fixed income ETPs also jumping on surging investor interest. Commodity ETPs took in about $775 million on the month, though nearly $480 million flowed into short leveraged commodity ETPs–suggesting that investors were beginning to bet on a bubble that has popped in the first week of May.
The rich got richer in the ETF space in April, as each of the ten largest ETFs saw inflows and this narrow slice of the universe combined to account for roughly half of the total new cash flows. SPY, the largest U.S.-listed ETF by total assets, led the way by taking in more than $2.7 billion. The PowerShares QQQ also saw a surge in interest, taking in some $2.1 billion as the underlying Nasdaq-100 Index underwent an unusual rebalancing. Another big winner in April was the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund (EEM), which hauled in more than $1.8 billion and reclaimed some of the ground lost in one of the most closely watched head-to-head battles in the ETF industry. EEM and Vanguard’s MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) both track the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. Thanks in part to a significant advantage in expenses, VWO has grown much more quickly than its iShares competitor. VWO, which took in $627 million in April, has seen inflows of about $2.5 billion year-to-date. EEM has seen net outflows in 2011 of nearly $7.5 billion [Compare any two ETFs with our ETF Comparison Tool].
A look at the biggest individual asset declines in April highlights how concerned investors had become about the run-up in oil prices; the biggest outflows were attributable to the United States Oil Fund (USO, $683 million) and Energy SPDR (XLE, $671 million), while the S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (XOP) saw some $310 million head for the exits. The Oil & Gas ETFdb Category saw more than $1 billion of outflows in April, while the Energy Equities ETFdb Category saw nearly $900 million in outflows.
[Download the complete summary of April ETF cash flows, including breakdowns by asset class, region, sector, and ETFdb Category].
iShares Regains Momentum
Bolstered by renewed interest in its emerging markets fund, iShares enjoyed another month of impressive growth. Aggregate AUM grew by more than 5.5%, and the market leader led all issuers with almost $9 billion in cash inflows. State Street saw inflows of $4.9 billion despite the big losses from XLE and XOP, while Vanguard and PowerShares each took in about $2.8 billion. In total, the industry’s “big four” accounted for more than 85% of April inflows [see the 25 largest ETFs by market cap].
Still, several smaller players took big steps forward in April; Rydex took in more than $500 million, or close to 7% of assets at the end of the previous month. APLS saw another $127 million come into its funds (primarily AMLP), representing more than 10% of March assets. And Teucrium, the Vermont-based issuer behind the only corn ETF (CORN) and a duo of unique crude oil (CRUD) and natural gas (NAGS) ETFs, saw inflows equal to nearly 40% of the previous month’s AUM.
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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.