The S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite fell an average of 2.4% last month, but those glum performances did not prevent investors from pouring $36.1 billion into exchange traded funds.
Strong March inflows brought first-quarter ETF inflows to $97.2 billion, or nearly triple the total from the from the first quarter of 2014, according to BlackRock data.
“Global ETFs gathered $36.1 billion in March to lift Q1 flows to $97.2 billion, nearly triple the total from Q1 2014. Investors put $71 billion into non-U.S. developed equities in the first three months of the year, making it the strongest first quarter on record. Currency hedged ETFs saw inflows of $26.8 billion in Q1 as investors looked to hedge their international equity exposure due to a stronger dollar,” according to BlackRock, parent company of iShares, the world’s largest ETF issuer.
Led by the WisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity Fund (NYSEArca: HEDJ) and the Deutsche X-trackers MSCI EAFE Hedged Equity ETF (NYSEArca: DBEF), currency hedged ETFs took in the bulk of new ETF assets in the first quarter. Currency hedged ETFs, which hold short positions in foreign currencies, such as the euro and yen, along with baskets of international equities, added $26.8 billion in the first quarter, according to BlackRock. [Dollar ETFs Have More Upside Ahead]
That sum is jaw-dropping when considering year-to-date inflows to currency hedged ETFs as of March 9 stood at $12 billion. HEDJ and DBEF combined for first-quarter inflows of over $15.2 billion, making the pair the top two asset-gathering ETFs for the period. With inflows of $2.67 billion and $1.99 billion, respectively, the WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund (NYSEArca: DXJ) and the iShares Currency Hedged MSCI EAFE ETF (NYSEArca: HEFA) which were also among the top 10 asset-gathering ETFs in the first quarter. [Hot Asset-Gathering Pace for This ETF]
“Flows for Europe and Japan, as well as broad developed markets (EAFE), have benefitted significantly from currency-hedgedequity funds, which had a record month gathering $13.4bn. This trend is expected to persist. The consensus is the U.S. dollar is in the midst of a strengthening cycle and these cycles have historically lasted for six to seven years,” said BlackRock.
Over the past month, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen 13.4%, a slide that has helped fixed income ETFs maintain an already torrid pace of asset-gathering. Fixed income ETFs had net inflows of $35.7 billion including almost $19 billion into investment grade and high yield ETFs. With this strong start to the year, fixed income ETFs are on track for another record year, according to BlackRock.
Still, the only bond ETF in the top 10 for first-quarter inflows was the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSEArca: HYG). According to Moody’s, default risk was only at 1.7%, compared to 17.3% in March 2009, with 184 issuers on the junk list, compared to 290 issuers in 2009. [Investors Return to Junk Bond ETFs]
Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of HEDJ and HYG.