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.

A Brief History Of Exchange-Traded Funds (1)

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 financial analyst with a deep understanding of investment vehicles, particularly exchange-traded funds (ETFs). My expertise stems from years of hands-on experience in analyzing market trends, evaluating investment strategies, and closely monitoring the evolution of financial products. Let me delve into the key concepts embedded within the article you provided.

Index Investing and ETF Origins:

Passive Investing and Index Funds: The concept of passive investing, pioneered by John Bogle with the launch of the Vanguard 500 Index Fund in 1975, laid the groundwork for ETFs. Index funds aimed to replicate the performance of market indices like the S&P 500 while minimizing costs and maximizing diversification.

Early Attempts at ETFs: The article mentions early attempts at creating ETF-like instruments such as Index Participation Shares and Toronto 35 Index Participation Units (TIPs35) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These initiatives, while not fully realized as ETFs, set the stage for the eventual emergence of exchange-traded funds.

The Birth and Growth of ETFs:

The Birth of ETFs: The first true ETF, SPDR (or "spider"), was launched by State Street Global Investors in 1993, tracking the S&P 500. This marked the beginning of a new era in investment vehicles.

Expansion and Diversification: Over the years, ETF offerings expanded dramatically, from just one fund in 1993 to over 11,510 globally by 2023, covering a wide array of asset classes and investment strategies. Major players like Barclays and Vanguard entered the ETF market, further fueling its growth.

Competition with Mutual Funds: ETFs gradually emerged as formidable competitors to traditional mutual funds, offering lower costs, greater transparency, and enhanced liquidity. In 2003, ETF net inflows surpassed those of mutual funds, reflecting a significant shift in investor preferences.

Examples of Notable ETFs:

SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY): Launched in 1993, SPY remains one of the largest and most actively traded ETFs, tracking the performance of the S&P 500 index.

iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV): Introduced in 2000, IVV is another popular ETF mirroring the S&P 500, boasting substantial assets under management and high trading volumes.

iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA): This ETF, launched in 2001, provides exposure to international equities outside of North America, catering to investors seeking diversification beyond domestic markets.

Invesco QQQ (QQQ): QQQ, launched in 1999, tracks the Nasdaq-100 Index and has become synonymous with technology and growth-oriented investments.

Bloomberg Barclays TIPS ETF (TIP): TIP, initiated in 2003, focuses on Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), offering investors a hedge against inflation.

The Future of ETFs:

While ETFs have democratized access to diversified investment portfolios, concerns about increased market volatility persist. Nonetheless, their popularity continues to soar, underscoring their significance in modern portfolio management.

In summary, ETFs have revolutionized the investment landscape, offering investors unparalleled flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and diversification opportunities across global markets. Their evolution from niche instruments to mainstream investment vehicles reflects the ongoing transformation of the financial industry.

A Brief History Of Exchange-Traded Funds (2024)
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