Least Popular ETFs Of The Year

Least Popular ETFs Of The Year

The world's largest ETF is just one of several major ETFs to shed assets so far in 2017.

Senior ETF Analyst
Reviewed by: Sumit Roy
Edited by: Sumit Roy

It may be surprising to hear that in a year in which ETFs are shattering all sorts of records with regard to the amount of money they are taking in, the world's largest exchange-traded fund isn't participating in the bonanza. That's right; the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), the $242 billion behemoth, has actually had net outflows this year to the tune of $4.2 billion.

SPY isn't the only ETF giant bleeding assets. There are a number of other funds from which investors have pulled billions of dollars. In some cases, there's seemingly no rhyme or reason why these funds are losing interest. In others, it's possible to come up with a plausible explanation.

In the case of SPY, for example, we can assume investors are gravitating toward cheaper rivals that track the same index.

For example, the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV) took in $24 billion this year, making it the world's second-largest exchange-traded, fund with $125 billion in assets under management.
Investors likely appreciate IVV's 0.04% expense ratio, which is less than half of SPY's 0.09% expense ratio.


TickerFundExpense RatioYTD FlowsAUM ($B)
SPYSPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust0.09%-3.5B242.33
IVViShares Core S&P 500 ETF0.04%24B124.60


A Few Basis Points Matter
The same reasoning may be behind why the $37 billion iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM), which comes with an expense ratio of 0.20%, had outflows of $1.9 billion in the year-to-date period.

Competing funds like the ultra-cheap Vanguard Small Cap-Value ETF (VBR), the Schwab U.S. Small-Cap ETF (SCHA) and the iShares S&P Small Cap ETF (IJR)―with expense ratios of 0.05% to 0.07%―picked up a more than $6 billion in combined assets this year.


TickerFundExpense RatioYTD FlowsAUM ($B)
IWMiShares Russell 2000 ETF 0.20%-1.7B37.1
VBRVanguard Small Cap Value Index Fund0.07%1.2B11.3
SCHASchwab U.S. Small-Cap ETF0.05%0.7B5.5
IJRiShares Core S&P Small Cap ETF0.07%4.2B30.5


Meanwhile, another bargain-priced trio seemingly stole assets from the $17.9 billion SPDR S&P MidCap 400 Index Fund (MDY), which had outflows of $1.7 billion in the period and charges 0.25%.

The Vanguard Mid-Cap ETF (VO), the iShares Core S&P Mid-Cap ETF (IJH) and the Schwab U.S. Mid-Cap ETF (SCHM)―also with expense ratios between 0.05% and 0.07%―took in a combined $4.5 billion this year.


TickerFundExpense RatioYTD FlowsAUM ($B)
MDYSPDR S&P Midcap 400 ETF Trust0.25%-1.7B17.9
VOVanguard Mid-Cap Index Fund0.06%1.4B19.5
IJHiShares Core S&P Mid-Cap ETF0.07%2.8B38.8
SCHMSchwab U.S. Mid-Cap ETF0.05%0.5B3.54


The same pattern can be seen in a factor fund like the $36.4 billion iShares Russell 1000 Growth ETF (IWF), with outflows of $1.5 billion this year. Cheaper competing products such as the Vanguard Growth Index Fund (VUG), the Schwab U.S. Large-Cap Growth ETF (SCHG) and the iShares S&P 500 Growth ETF (IVW) had inflows of a combined $3.9 billion.

These figures suggest that among the cheapest, most liquid ETFs, a basis point or two in fees could make the difference between billions of dollars in outflows or inflows.

Not Just Costs

Of course, costs aren't the only thing that compel investors to buy or sell an ETF. The unpopularity of the $8.5 billion VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), with its $2.8 billion worth of outflows this year, may have less to do with cost than investors simply avoiding gold miners (for whatever reason).

Likewise, for the iShares MSCI Japan ETF (EWJ) and the iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF (EWW), a lack of interest in Japanese and Mexican stocks may be the bigger driver of the more than $800 million worth of outflows from each of the funds than any cost considerations.

Finally, for the Deutsche X-trackers MSCI EAFE Hedged Equity ETF (DBEF) and the WisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity Fund (HEDJ), expectations about currency movements and new, dynamic competitors may be fueling the unpopularity of these funds.

The two had combined outflows of more than $13.2 billion last year and continue that trend with $1.6 billion worth of outflows so far this year.

International equity ETFs have been popular year-to-date, so the outflows from DBEF and HEDJ are the exception rather than the norm. These currency-hedged products tend to outperform their vanilla counterparts when the dollar is climbing (and vice versa). With the greenback selling off this year, they've underperformed, likely turning investors away from them.

For a full list of this year's least popular ETFs, see the table below:


TickerFundOutflows ($M)*
SPYSPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust-3,471.44
GDXVanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF-2,824.63
MDYSPDR S&P Midcap 400 ETF Trust-1,721.78
IWMiShares Russell 2000 ETF-1,672.80
IWFiShares Russell 1000 Growth ETF-1,485.09
DBEFDeutsche X-trackers MSCI EAFE Hedged Equity ETF-1,454.06
HEDJWisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity Fund-1,214.76
FXNFirst Trust Energy AlphaDex Fund-1,128.77
EWJiShares MSCI Japan ETF-937.58
EWWiShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF-840.77

*USD millions. Data measures the year-to-date period through Sept. 11, 2017.

Contact Sumit Roy at [email protected]


Sumit Roy is the senior ETF analyst for etf.com, where he has worked for 13 years. He creates a variety of content for the platform, including news articles, analysis pieces, videos and podcasts.

Before joining etf.com, Sumit was the managing editor and commodities analyst for Hard Assets Investor. In those roles, he was responsible for most of the operations of HAI, a website dedicated to education about commodities investing.

Though he still closely follows the commodities beat, Sumit covers a much broader assortment of topics for etf.com, with a particular focus on stock and bond exchange-traded funds.

He is the host of etf.com’s Talk ETFs, a popular video series that features weekly interviews with thought leaders in the ETF industry. Sumit is also co-host of Exchange Traded Fridays, etf.com’s weekly podcast series.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys climbing the city’s steep hills, playing chess and snowboarding in Lake Tahoe.