Updated with correction.
Total worldwide assets managed in sponsored exchange-traded funds soared 23.5% to $1.92 trillion as of Dec. 31, according to the latest Pensions & Investments money manager survey.
It is the second straight year that sponsored ETF assets have jumped more than 20%; they jumped 27.4% to $1.55 trillion in 2012, according to P&I data.
Jon Pliner, New York-based senior investment consultant at Towers Watson & Co., said in a telephone interview that the attraction of exchange-traded funds for institutions, in particular, also is growing, particularly as a shorter-term investment.
“From an institutional perspective, they're appealing in their liquidity ... if a sponsor is seeking a shorter-term exposure, whether it (is) through some sort of a transition process or just looking to get the shorter term exposure,” Mr. Plainer said. “They're good vehicles for that,” Mr. Plainer added. “There (are) large levels of liquidity, there's the ease of transactions, etc. What we don't see so much from our client base is a large use of them as longer term exposure for many of our institutional clients. The need for daily liquidity or intraday liquidity is not really there.”
BlackRock Inc. and State Street Global Advisors are by far the two largest ETF managers in P&I's survey with $914 billion and $399 billion, respectively, together comprising 68.5% of the total assets.
While those two managers saw their assets increase 21.5% and 17.2%, respectively, smaller players are seeing their assets rise even more dramatically.
James Rowley, Malvern, Pa.-based senior investment strategist at Vanguard, said one reason for the boom in ETFs is the overall focus on index funds. “There's a very big focus on low-cost indexing in the past decade,” Mr. Rowley said. “There's an overwhelming amount of assets going into the lowest quartile of costs.”
Other reasons, Mr. Rowley noted, are the transition in the adviser industry to a more fee-based compensation model, as well as the low-cost architecture involved. “Some of our most popular funds are what you might associate with diversified low-cost beta,” said Mr. Rowley.
Bobby Brooks, Boston-based national sales manager for Invesco PowerShares, said the firm's emphasis on smart beta since the founding of its ETF business in 2002, has contributed significantly to the growth in assets.
“Last year in the industry, the smart beta category (overall was) actually growing faster in terms of percentage than the traditional cap-weighted beta,” Mr. Brooks said.
Among the funds that saw significant asset growth in the past year was the PowerShares Buyback Achievers Portfolio, according to Mr. Brooks.
“It's built on the concept of firms and companies buying back their shares,” Mr. Brooks said. “As firms become cash-rich, they either pay out dividends or buy back their shares. In the past we've seen our clients peel some of their business away from the dividend payouts.”
“It fits in that smart beta category,” he added.
Other funds that saw asset growth in the past year were the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio and the PowerShares Senior Loan Portfolio, “the first bank loan ETF of its kind,” Mr. Brooks said.