The Phony ETF Fee War?

October 18th at 10:45am by John Spence

Three of the largest exchange traded fund providers have announced moves designed to lower costs for investors in the past month, but BlackRock CEO Larry Fink denies there is a fee war in the ETF industry.

“Overall, this is not a price war. This is all about working with our clients. I think you guys, and I’m including the press, have created this myth about a price war stuff,” Fink said Wednesday during BlackRock’s (NYSE: BLK) third-quarter earnings call.

Earlier this week BlackRock, the largest ETF manager, lowered expense ratios at six of its iShares funds. It also launched the new iShares Core Series targeting long-term investors, and said it is integrating the iShares and BlackRock U.S. retail sales teams. [BlackRock ETF Fee Cuts Focus on Buy-and-Hold Investors]

“There is nothing related to a price war. We did not think about this as a price war,” Fink said. “We thought about this as a means to be much more comprehensive to our clients, to provide … core products that will fit our clients’ needs who have different dimensional needs than some of our other clients. So you know, we have got to move on from this myth about a price war.”

BlackRock’s announcement this week follows Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCHW) slashing fees on 15 ETFs in September. [Schwab Lowers ETF Expense Ratios]

Earlier this month, Vanguard unveiled an index transition at its ETFs that will allow it to cut costs for investors. [Vanguard Changing Indices for Several ETFs]

However, BlackRock’s Fink stressed fees are only one factor investors and advisors consider when choosing individual ETFs and providers. Also, BlackRock sees several user groups of ETFs who have different priorities. Some investors use ETFs as trading vehicles, some are looking for specialized market exposure, and some are buy-and-hold investors, for example.

Fink said aside from ETF expense ratios, total costs also include bid/ask spreads and index tracking error.

“I think there is a failure of people recognizing the two other costs,” he said during Wednesday’s conference call.

In BlackRock’s third-quarter earnings report, it said investors added $25.2 billion to its iShares ETFs, the best quarter since 2009.

Fink also hinted that it is seeing investors move into its iShares funds that track MSCI indices after Vanguard decided to drop the benchmark provider from its ETFs.

“We are seeing flows into our existing products, because of the changes of index providers with our competitor,” Fink said.

“The one thing that people are failing to look at … is institutions by and large want to use the MSCI index,” he added.

Vanguard in a Reuters report denied that the index change was having a negative effect on its ETF flows.

Story updated to correct quote from BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.

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