Are Exchange Traded Funds a new & temporary trend – or do they have a future in India? What’s the scope of ETF investments? In the 5th and final post of the ETF Education Series, we analyse these key questions. In case you are new to ETFs, you should start with the first article, which covers ETF basics.
India got its first ETF in 2001, when Benchmark Mutual Fund launched the Nifty ETF Fund with a defined objective to track the performance of the Nifty-50 index. Since then, the ETF industry in India has witnessed a slow but steady growth.
Benchmark continued to be ETF pioneers in India, launching the first Fixed Income ETF (Liquid BeEs) in 2004 and the first Gold ETF (Gold BeEs) in 2007.
Benchmark sold its business to Goldman Sachs in 2011, who in-turn sold it to Reliance Mutual Fund in 2015. By the way – these funds, and even the broader team managing them, are still in operation and in fact are amongst the most active & liquid funds in their categories today. Needless to say, many AMCs have followed suit since then.
There was a period in between when ETFs became associated with a convenient way to invest in gold, especially in the early 2010s. In fact, more than 50% of total ETF assets were in gold funds for most years in between 2009-2014, as seen in the graph below.
Since 2015, the ETF landscape has not only become much bigger but also more diverse. Assets under Management for ETFs has grown from approx. 13,800 crores in December 2014 to more than 1,41,500 crores as of May 2019 – that’s a 10x (or 1,000%) in less than 5 years, at a CAGR of more than 55%! Interestingly, the bulk of this growth has come from the equity segment.
“The Government had mandated Retirement and superannuation funds to invest at least 5% of yearly accretion in Equity markets. Many of them have opted ETFs for such investments”
says Sharwan Goyal, who is the fund manager of 4 ETFs at UTI Mutual Fund, one of the largest Asset Management Companies (AMCs) in India. “In addition to this, Government decided to disinvest part of their holding through ETFs. This has helped the overall growth of ETFs in India”, he adds.
SPIVA, which is maintained by S&P Dow-Jones & tracks the performance of active funds vs. its benchmarks, reported that more than 90% active large-cap funds underperformed their respective benchmarks
Despite its numerous advantages & benefits, ETF penetration amongst investors is still low relative to mutual funds. One of the key reasons for this is that distributors have no incentive to “recommend” these products to clients. Distributors are the people/firms who “recommend” & sell investment products to clients.
Since ETFs usually don’t pay any commissions (in order to keep down costs), whereas mutual funds do, distributors are generally more incentivised to push MFs even if ETFs might be better to clients.
Other reasons that have prevented include the historically low liquidity & trading volume, though this has improved in recent years. SIPs in ETFs are also not as convenient as Mutual Funds, stopping many investors from using ETFs. Finally, the low variety of Equity ETFs – with none focused on Smallcap & only a couple in the Midcap space – has also kept many investors away.
However, many professionals don’t feel the need to have more diverse or niche ETF strategies just yet. “Currently there are 79 ETFs available in India, out of which 59 ETFs are linked to 22 different Equity Indices. Looking at current penetration of ETFs and general market depth, this is quite a sufficient spread. Flagship ETFs on broad market indices should reach to next level before availability of new ETFs”, adds Sharwan of UTI.
ETFs have already taken over the world, with AuM in such funds already surpassing that in traditional mutual funds in many countries. The low-cost & instant liquidity provided by ETFs have appealed to investors globally.
But the road wasn’t always smooth – the challenges that ETFs are experiencing in the Indian market now is actually very similar to the ones ETFs faced in the developed markets like US & UK in its initial years.
It took the 2008 financial crisis for ETFs to become mainstream as global investors again remembered that returns can’t be controlled, but costs can be. (Learn more how 3 stock market crashes changed the investing world). In the following 10 years, ETF assets grew from approx. $700 billion in 2008 to more than $5 trillion as of 2019.
In India, the ETF market is now at an interesting threshold as ETFs are back into focus due to the underperformance of active funds. This renewed focus on costs might just be the catalyst for investors to seek lower-cost & better alternatives & experience the benefits of Exchange Traded Funds.
At smallcase, we believe that ETFs are more efficient and investor-friendly compared to similar mutual funds. They are also inherently fairer than mutual funds for long-term investors. Which why we use them in all our asset allocation smallcases, which are designed for stable returns by investing in different assets like equity, gold, fixed income, etc.
As an investor, I’d love for the ETF market to grow. They are not only better for me personally – if the trends in developed economies are anything to go by, the increased adoption of ETFs leads to the betterment of the overall market by reducing costs.
For example, the bigger/popular large-cap ETFs in the US now charge an expense ratio of 0.03% or even less – in fact, some AMCs have even launched no-fee Exchange Traded Funds that don’t charge investors! As a result, mutual funds in the US have also drastically reduced their fees. Imagine – wouldn’t it be nice to invest ₹1,00,000 in the Nifty-50 and pay only ₹30 for that, rather than ₹1,000-2,000 in mutual fund fees?
Sooner rather than later, ETFs will become as popular as mutual funds – but you don’t have to wait until that to reap its benefits. The next time you are considering an investment, especially in a mutual fund, ask yourself if you can achieve the same objective with an ETF. In particular, if you are a long-term investor with SIPs every month & no intention of redeeming in the near future, then ETFs can be an ideal option. Happy investing!
This post is the 5th & final one in the ETF Education Series. If you are new to ETFs or interested to learn more about them, we recommend reading the entire series:
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