European Investor Flows Reveal a Pickier Mindset with ETF Plays

European exchange traded fund investors dumped S&P 500 exposure for the more technology-heavy Nasdaq-100 and a number of sector picks, like those that track so-called sustainable indices.

According to Invesco data, in the six years ended 2019, 59% of the $91 billion of net new money European ETF investors pumped into U.S. equities went into those that tracked the S&P 500, the Financial Times reports.

However, we witnessed a shift in preferences over the first 11 months of the year as Europeans yanked a net $7.8 billion from ETFs tracking the S&P 500, but they funneled $17 billion into ETFs based on other U.S. equity indices.

For instance, over the period, almost $2.8 billion went into ETFs tracking the Nasdaq 100, which had surged by 43% for the year ended December 21, compared to the 13.4% rise in the S&P 500.

“Nasdaq 100 ETFs have seen significant inflows,” Deborah Fuhr, founder of ETFGI, a consultancy, told FT. “Many people see that as a way to get exposure to technology. It’s not really a tech index but it’s had a very good year.”

Additionally, $7.4 billion went into products backed by MSCI indices. Its USA SRI Select Reduced Fossil Fuel Index saw $2.1 billion in net inflows and USA Low Carbon SRI Leaders Index brought in $1 billion. These socially responsible or “sustainable” indices act as the underlying benchmarks for environmental, social, and governance-linked ETFs, which have attracted widespread popularity this year.

“We have seen movement away from the S&P as a broad benchmark towards ESG versions of that,” Gary Buxton, head of Emea ETFs and indexed strategies at Invesco, told FT.

Increasing Interest

A number of MSCI sector indices, led by healthcare, banks, and consumer staples, have attracted greater interest this year. The FTSE Group’s small-cap Russell 2000 benchmark also saw $1.1 billion in inflows.

Buxton pointed out that there had been “significant outflows from US broad indices towards sector-type benchmarks” since the presidential election in early November, as investors adopted more tactical investments.

Anaelle Ubaldino, a quantitative financial adviser at Koris International, argued that the shift away from broad benchmarks to more focused areas was a sign of maturity in the investment community.

“When you start as a retail investor you will use broad ETFs, but as you start to understand [investment]more, maybe you want to take more specific bets or align with your views,” Ubaldino told FT.