One of the bigger, if not the biggest, news items in the world of exchange traded funds today is that BlackRock (NYSE: BLK), the parent company of iShares, is closing in on $1 trillion in ETF assets under management.
The caveat, in the eyes of many, is that the world’s largest ETF issuer continues to cede market share to Vanguard. Pennsylvania-based Vanguard is the third-largest U.S. ETF issuer. “So far this year, Vanguard has pulled in about $30.3 billion in net new ETF money in the U.S., or about 43 percent of the market, while iShares is second with $24.7 billion, or about 35 percent,” reports Reuters.
That is interesting because as of Dec. 31, 2013, iShares and Vanguard had $661.5 billion and $333.7 billion in U.S. ETF assets under management, respectively, according to ETF.com. As of June 27, those numbers had grown to $717 billion and $383.7 billion.
Looks like iShares has actually pulled in more money this year than Vanguard, but that is a story for another day. The reality is, Vanguard has proven prolific at asset gathering as highlighted by the fact that five of the top-10 ETFs in terms of 2014 inflows are Vanguard funds, a group that includes the Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF (NYSEArca: VGK) and the Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (NYSEArca: BND). [Vanguard Dominates ETF Inflows]
The issue is not Vanguard’s ability, which cannot be assailed, to garner new ETF assets. Rather, the issue is framing the story as a two-horse race where the winner is always the same.
A favorite talking point is that iShares is losing market share to Vanguard. Unfortunately for those that continue to mention that point, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that every $1 that leaves an iShares ETF winds up in a Vanguard fund. It is a particularly hard claim to prove at a time when iShares is GAINING not losing money. [iShares Bolsters Core Lineup]
Worse yet, those that paint the picture of the ETF industry being no more than iShares and Vanguard ignore several critical points. First, the business is flourishing and maturing. iShares is not losing market share just because of Vanguard. All of the ETF Big Three – iShares, State Street Global Advisors and Vanguard – face legitimate competition from smaller issuers that have proven adept at garnering assets.
That is to say iShares and Vanguard may have the brand recognition in the ETF world of Coke and Pepsi, but the ETF business is not the two-giant competition that the soda business is.
Just on sheer size alone, the Coke/Pepsi analogy is more applicable to iShares and State Street. Buoyed by inflows, to some of the year’s best performing sector ETFs, such as the Energy Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLE) and bond funds like the SPDR Barclays Short Term High Yield Bond ETF (NYSEArca: SJNK), State Street has quietly added $11 billion in assets, giving the Boston-based firm an almost $58 billion lead over Vanguard another point that is rarely, if ever mentioned.