Assets in active ETFs grew at more than double the rate of passive ETFs in 2015, Pensions & Investments' annual money manager survey found.
Among managers in Pensions & Investments' universe of the largest managers of U.S. institutional tax-exempt assets, active ETF assets grew 26.7%, to $24.7 billion.
That total, however, is still only a sliver of the $2.46 trillion total reported in ETFs and exchange-traded notes sponsored by the managers in P&I's universe.
Among managers reporting sponsored active ETFs and ETNs, Pacific Investment Management Co. LLC remained at the top of the list, reporting $12 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, up 14.6% from a year earlier.
PIMCO has 13 active ETFs, seven in the U.S. and six in Europe, said spokeswoman Agnes Crane in an e-mail.
Morningstar Inc. data show that PIMCO's Total Return Active ETF had the biggest gains among all the firm's ETFs, finishing 2015 with $2.61 billion in assets under management, up 10% from the previous year.
Ms. Crane said the Total Return Active ETF had net inflows of $332 million in 2015.
The positive inflows for the Total Return Active ETF compared to the $54 billion in net outflows Morningstar calculated for the PIMCO Total Return Fund, the mutual fund on which the ETF is based.
Both the Total Return Active ETF and the Total Return Fund had been managed by bond guru William H. Gross until his departure from PIMCO in September 2014.
Ms. Crane could not provide additional details about the growth of PIMCO's ETFs.
Shelly Antoniewicz, a senior economist at the Investment Company Institute, Washington, said much of the active ETF growth during 2015 was in short-maturity fixed-income ETFs because of investor uncertainty about whether the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates.
“When there is interest rate uncertainty, the prudent thing is to shorten the duration,” Ms. Antoniewicz said.
Investors generally avoided active equity ETFs in 2015 as concerns about market volatility increased, said Reggie Browne, senior managing director and head of ETF trading at New York-based Cantor Fitzgerald.
“There is not a lot of alpha in active equity ETFs,” Mr. Browne said of the current market environment.
State Streete Global Advisors saw the biggest percentage jump in assets among active ETF providers in P&I's universe; assets rose 196% in 2015, to $2.98 billion.
SSgA spokeswoman Anne McNally said the increase was due to the 2015 launch of the SPDR DoubleLine Total Return Tactical ETF.
The ETF, which is subadvised by DoubleLine Capital LP, has seen its assets rise to $1.78 billion as of Dec. 31 from $145 million in its launch month of February 2015, Morningstar data show.
The DoubleLine Total Return Tactical ETF invests across fixed-income sectors but had more than 50% of its assets in mortgage-backed securities as of Dec. 31.
Globally, SSgA has 272 ETFs, of which 12 are active accounting for about 4% of the firm's ETF assets, Ms. McNally said.
SSgA's total sponsored ETF AUM was $427.8 billion, as of Dec. 31, P&I data
show, ranking the firm third overall behind BlackRock Inc. with $1.09 trillion and Vanguard Group Inc., with $483.3 billion. Overall, managers' sponsored ETF assets in P&I's universe rose 6.8% in 2015.
Other ETF providers that saw large increases for active ETFs in 2015 included Guggenheim Investments, with a 30% jump to $1.8 billion during 2015, and Invesco Ltd., whose active sponsored ETF assets rose 24% during the year to $1.1 billion.