Shakeup In Biggest ETF Pecking Order

February 04, 2014

Investor appetite for developed-market equities pushes EFA into No. 2 slot.

The iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA | A) is now the second-biggest U.S.-listed ETF in the market, rising from the fifth spot as recently as last summer thanks to solid investor demand for exposure to developed-market equities in recent months.

Since July 1, 2013, EFA has attracted roughly $6 billion in net inflows, growing to become the $51 billion ETF it is today, second only to the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY | A). SPY remains the market’s leader by a wide margin, with more than $150 billion in total assets even after a month like January, when the fund saw $15 billion in outflows.

EFA is a market-cap-weighted portfolio that invests in equities from developed economies globally, but excludes exposure to the U.S. and Canada. The hugely liquid fund—it trades on average some $1.15 billion a day—tops its country allocation with the United Kingdom, at nearly 22 percent of the portfolio, followed by Japan, which represents 21 percent of the mix.

In the past 12 months, EFA has seen gains of 10.6 percent, which compares with SPY’s 19.5 percent gain in the same period.

EFA’s rise in the ETF ranks has come largely at the expense of emerging market equity funds. The $32 billion iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM | B) now ranks seventhfrom No. 4 as recently as last spring, and the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Market ETF (VWO | C), which had been the second-largest ETF as of last September, is now the fifth-largest ETF, with $40 billion, after losing some $7 billion in AUM in that time.

Both EEM and VWO have faced growing investor aversion to emerging market exposure triggered by the Federal Reserve’s decision to taper “quantitative easing.”

The ending era of easy money policies that marked much of the U.S. economic recovery in the past five years is impacting capital flows into emerging market economies, many of which are already struggling to spur growth.

In 2013, investors yanked a total of $5.3 billion from EEM and $8.3 billion from VWO, and the bleeding isn’t showing signs of stopping. So far this year, EEM has already faced net outflows of $5.8 billion, while VWO has shed $3.2 billion year-to-date.

Finally, the once-mighty SPDR Gold Trust (GLD | A-100), which started 2013 as the second-largest ETF in the world, with more than $72 billion in total assets, has now slid to the eighth ranking. Behind the slide are net asset losses of more than $25 billion in the past 13 months, and a slumping price performance that brought down GLD’s total assets to $31.88 billion.

Still, it’s worth noting that GLD remains the largest physical gold ETF in the market by a wide margin—it’s more than five times as big as its next competitor. What’s more, as an interesting historical footnote, it was once the biggest ETF in the world for a very short time, when anxiety about the macroeconomy peaked in the summer of 2011 following Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt.


Chart courtesy of

January 2014 ETF Giants

Ticker Fund Issuer Flows AUM ($,M) Turnover
SPY SPDR S&P 500 SSgA -14,561.50 154,468.60 495,490.12
EFA iShares MSCI EAFE BlackRock 640.57 51,288.03 29,134.34
IVV iShares Core S&P 500 BlackRock -1,223.87 50,641.92 21,900.09
QQQ PowerShares QQQ Invesco PowerShares -1,549.64 42,916.46 78,200.41
VWO Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets Vanguard -2,919.28 40,341.02 19,627.75
VTI Vanguard Total Stock Market Vanguard 1,019.90 38,940.28 8,660.99
EEM iShares MSCI Emerging Markets BlackRock -5,490.44 32,057.46 73,198.23
GLD SPDR Gold SSgA -189.85 31,888.57 20,833.84
IWM iShares Russell 2000 BlackRock -2,941.40 24,558.11 98,752.55
IJH iShares Core S&P Mid-Cap BlackRock 484.58 22,745.07 3,254.20


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