[Editor's Note: We are rerunning some of our best stories from the year.]
The competition for assets in the ETF industry is fierce. There are all sorts of ways issuers attempt to woo investors into their products, but the most straightforward is fees. All else equal, the lower the expense ratio for a fund, the more attractive it is for investors.
For ETFs that track popular broad-based indexes, the rivalry among funds is especially intense. Every few months, there's news about an issuer cutting fees on an S&P 500 ETF product or an aggregate bond product to once-unheard-of levels.
According to FactSet data, there are now 98 ETFs on the market that cost 0.10% (10 basis points) or less per year to own. There are 261 ETFs with an expense ratio of 0.20% or less and a whopping 424 ETFs with an expense ratio of 0.30% or less.
|Expense Ratio||No. Of ETFs|
Out of 1,941 total ETFs, the number of ETFs that can be considered "dirt cheap" is large and growing.
EEM: The Poster Child In Fee War
Investors aren't complaining. These low-cost ETFs are often some of the most popular products on the market. For example, 39 out of the top 50 ETFs in terms of assets have an expense ratio of 0.20% or less.
The other 11 remain popular largely due to first-to-market advantages or liquidity.
The poster child for this is the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM | B-100), the first emerging markets ETF, which currently has $27.4 billion in assets. Once the only option for investors, it is quickly falling out of favor as investors flock to cheaper emerging market ETFs.
EEM's expense ratio of 0.69% is well above that of alternatives such as the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO | B-96), with an expense ratio of 0.15%, or the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (IEMG | A-99), with an expense ratio of 0.16%.
Meanwhile, products such as the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (HYG | B-68) and the iShares Preferred Stock ETF (PFF | B) target corners of the market where liquidity and transactions costs are higher, keeping expense ratios from falling more. HYG has an expense ratio of 0.5% and assets under management of $17.6 billion, while PFF has an expense ratio of 0.47% and AUM of $16.7 billion.