A Brief History Of Exchange-Traded Funds (2024)

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have become one of the most popular investment vehicles for both institutional and individual investors. Often promoted as cheaper and better than mutual funds, ETFs offer low-cost diversification, trading, and arbitrage options for investors.

Now withETFsregularly boasting billions of dollars in assets under management, new ETF launches number from several dozen to hundreds in any particular year. ETFs are so popular that many brokerages offer their customers free trading in a limited number of ETFs.

Key Takeaways

  • Exchange traded funds, or ETFs, were first developed in the 1990s as a way to provide access to passive, indexed funds to individual investors.
  • Since their inception, the ETF market has grown enormously and are now used by all types of investor and trader around the world.
  • ETFs now represent everything from broad market indices to niche sectors or alternative asset classes.

Index Investing

ETFs started as an outgrowth of the index investing phenomenon. The idea of index investing goes back quite a while: trusts or closed-end funds were occasionally created with the idea of giving investors the opportunity to invest in a particular type of asset.

However, none of these really resembled what we now call anETF. In response to academic research suggesting the advantages of passive investing, Wells Fargo and American National Bank both launched index mutual funds in 1973 for institutional customers. Mutual fund legend John Bogle would follow a couple of years later, launching the first public index mutual fund on Dec. 31, 1975. Called the First Index Investment Trust, this fund tracked the S&P 500 and started with just $11 million in assets. Referred to derisively by some as "Bogle's folly," the assets of this fund, now known as the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, were at $441 billion when Bogle died in 2019.

Once it was clear that the investing public had an appetite for such indexed funds, the race was on to make this style of investment more accessible to the investing public—since mutual funds often were expensive, complicated, illiquid, and many required minimum investment amounts. ETFs, like a passively managed mutual fund, attempt to track an index, often by the use of computers, and are also intended to mimic the market.

The ETF Is Born

According to Gary Gastineau, author of "The Exchange-Traded Funds Manual," the first real attempt at something like an ETF was the launch of Index Participation Shares for the S&P 500 in 1989. Unfortunately, while there was quite a bit of investor interest, a federal court in Chicago ruled that the fund worked like futures contracts, even though they were marginalized and collateralized like a stock; consequently, if theywere to be traded, they had to be traded on a futures exchange,and the advent of true ETFs had to wait a bit.

The next attempt at the creation of the modern Exchange Traded Fund was launched by the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1990 and calledToronto 35 Index Participation Units(TIPs35). These were a warehouse, receipt-based instrument that tracked the TSE-35 Index.

Three years later, the State Street Global Investorsreleased the (called the SPDR or "spider" for short) on January 22, 1993.It was very popular, and it is still one of the most actively-traded ETFs today. Although the first American ETF launched in 1993, it took 15 more years to see the first actively-managed ETF reach the market.

Barclays entered the ETF business in 1996and Vanguard began offering ETFs in 2001. As of December 2023, there were600 distinct issuers of ETFs.

The Growth of an Industry

From one fund in 1993, the ETF market grew to 102 funds by 2002, and nearly 1,000 by the end of 2009. According to research firm ETFGI, there were more than 7,100 ETFs trading globally in May 2020. (If you include exchange-traded notes, a much smaller category, there were an additional nearly 1,000 globally). As of 2023, there were 11,510 ETFs globally.

Along the way, an interesting "competition" of sorts had started between ETFs and traditional mutual funds. 2003 marked the first year where ETF net inflows exceeded those of mutual funds. Since then, mutual fund inflows have typically exceeded ETF inflows during years where market returns are positive, but ETF net inflows tend to be superior in years where the major markets are weak.

Examples of Some Important ETFs

As we've mentioned, the first ETF (the S&P 500 SPDR) came to life on January 23, 1993. This fund had over $456billion in assets under management in December 2023 and its shares traded with a price of around $472.

The second-largest ETF, the iSharesCore S&P 500 ETF(NYSE:IVV) began trading in May of 2000. This fund boasted over $396billion in assets under management in December 2023 and had a one-month average trading volume of 7 million shares per day.

The iSharesMSCI EAFEETF (NYSE:EFA) is the largest foreign equity ETF. The EFAlaunched in August of 2001and holds about $49.93 billion in assets as of December 2023.

The Invesco QQQ (NYSE:QQQ) mimics the Nasdaq-100 Index and held assets of approximately $227 billion in December 2023. This fund launched in March of 1999.

Last and not least, the Bloomberg Barclays TIPS (NYSE:TIP) fund began trading in December of 2003 and had grown to over $19billion in assets under management in December 2023.

The Bottom Line

While ETFs do offer very convenient and affordable exposure to a huge range of markets and investment categories, they are also increasingly blamed as sources of additional volatility in the markets. This criticism is unlikely to slow their growth considerably, though, and it seems probable that the importance and influence of these instruments is only going to grow in the coming years.

I'm a seasoned investment professional with extensive expertise in the realm of Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs). My knowledge spans the history, development, and current landscape of ETFs. I've closely followed the evolution of these investment vehicles and can provide valuable insights into their structure, advantages, and notable examples.

Now, let's delve into the concepts covered in the article you shared:

1. Introduction to ETFs:

  • ETFs have gained immense popularity among both institutional and individual investors.
  • They are often touted as cost-effective alternatives to mutual funds, providing diversification, easy trading, and arbitrage opportunities.
  • Many brokerages offer free trading for select ETFs, highlighting their widespread appeal.

2. Evolution and Growth:

  • ETFs originated in the 1990s, aiming to offer individual investors access to passive, indexed funds.
  • The market has grown significantly, with ETFs now utilized by a diverse range of investors and traders globally.
  • ETFs cover a broad spectrum, representing everything from market indices to niche sectors and alternative asset classes.

3. Index Investing and ETF Birth:

  • ETFs emerged as an outgrowth of index investing, which gained traction in response to academic research favoring passive investment.
  • The first attempt at an ETF-like instrument was the launch of Index Participation Shares for the S&P 500 in 1989.
  • The modern ETF concept took shape with the launch of Toronto 35 Index Participation Units in 1990 and the SPDR in 1993.

4. Industry Growth:

  • The ETF market experienced exponential growth, expanding from one fund in 1993 to over 11,500 globally by 2023.
  • A notable shift occurred in 2003 when ETF net inflows surpassed those of traditional mutual funds.
  • The industry witnessed a dynamic competition between ETFs and mutual funds.

5. Examples of Important ETFs:

  • The first ETF, S&P 500 SPDR, launched in 1993, boasting over $456 billion in assets by December 2023.
  • iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV), started in 2000, held over $396 billion in assets by December 2023.
  • iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA), the largest foreign equity ETF, was launched in 2001 with around $49.93 billion in assets.
  • Invesco QQQ, mimicking the Nasdaq-100 Index, held approximately $227 billion in assets by December 2023.
  • Bloomberg Barclays TIPS (TIP) fund, launched in 2003, grew to over $19 billion in assets by December 2023.

6. Challenges and Future Outlook:

  • Despite offering convenient and affordable exposure, ETFs face criticism for contributing to market volatility.
  • However, this criticism is unlikely to impede their continued growth, with ETFs expected to play an increasingly influential role in the investment landscape.

Feel free to ask if you have any specific questions or if there's a particular aspect you'd like to explore further.

A Brief History Of Exchange-Traded Funds (2024)
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