ETF investors can keep winning big in 2018 as fee wars wage on

An "iShares by Blackrock" sign on the front of the New York Stock Exchange.

U.S. equity: 38 percent
International equity: 34 percent
U.S. fixed income: 23 percent
Others: 5 percent

Not surprisingly, high yield bond ETFs (HYG) saw outflows, but they were modest. Mexico ETFs were also a loser (a reverse Trump trade). Gold miners also saw outflows, and despite talk of an infrastructure plan, utilities and transports both had negative flows for the year.

Trends that didn’t happen: For all the hype, smart beta ETFs and ESG (environmental, social, governance) ETFs have not caught on, despite endless buzz that millennials will flock to socially responsible investing.

The story for 2018: Absent massive volatility, investors will continue to pour money into the lowest-cost index ETFs, leading to even lower fees as the major players continue their massive — and potentially debilitating — price war.

About 30 percent of all the inflows went to 10 low-cost, plain-vanilla equity ETFs that were indexed to the S&P 500 (IVV, VOO, SPY), developed markets in general (IEFA, EFA, VEA), or emerging markets (IEMG, VWO).

“With over 2000 ETFs out there, the top 25 accounted for half the huge flows this year,” Nadig said.

Investors are the winners: The average ETF in 2018 will charge less than 40 basis points ($4.00 per $1,000 invested), less than half the average mutual fund. The big five ETF players (Blackrock, Vanguard, State Street, Invesco, Schwab) will rule, others will struggle.

“The fee wars will remain in full swing,” Nadig says. “It’s a tough market for issuers, but a great one for investors.”

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