ETF buying this year is on track to break the previous record from 2008 despite persistent worries over Europe’s debt crisis and the looming fiscal cliff. If the torrid pace continues, ETFs will put even more pressure on the traditional mutual fund industry.

Year to date, U.S.-listed ETFs have gathered inflows of $181 billion to top the $177 billion record from 2008, said Nicholas Colas, ConvergEx Group chief market strategist, in a note Friday.

“That U.S. listed exchange traded funds are closing out 2012 with such strong asset gathering – at or near a very considerable record – does engender a whole range of questions over the future of capital markets and especially equities. The data is clear: ETFs aren’t just here to stay; they are here to conquer,” Colas added.

Based on current growth rates, the $1.3 trillion ETF business could double every five years or so.

“At this rate it would still be 12 years or more before ETFs reach the current asset under management level of U.S. listed mutual funds (an estimated +$9 trillion), to be sure,” the strategist wrote. “And trend lines change, of course. But if the last 12 months are any sign – and I think they are – ETFs will play a larger role in capital allocation in the years ahead.”

Although U.S. mutual fund investors have run away from stocks in the years following the financial crisis, equity ETF flows have been resilient.

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