(Dow Jones) In the exchange-traded fund business, it's almost like old times.
Not so long ago, ETF companies gained lots of attention and some criticism for rolling out what seemed like an endless array of new funds. Sometimes dozens a month were launched, with the total number of ETFs peaking in mid-2008 at more than 700 with about $580 billion in assets, according to the Investment Company Institute.
But when the financial crisis hit, the gold rush seemed to be over. As stock and bond markets tumbled, so did ETFs' assets under management. New fund launches all but ground to a halt, and the number of ETFs on the market actually fell during the first six months of 2009 as more funds closed their doors than opened them.
Now, with investors regaining confidence, so are fund companies.
The number of fund launches "has really accelerated," says Morningstar Analyst Scott Burns. "It's gone from one here and there to a floodgate."
ETF fund companies launched 14 new funds in October and have already handily exceeded that total for November with Vanguard Group, Barclays PLC (BCS), and Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW), a new ETF player, all rolling out brand new funds. By contrast the industry produced just four new funds in February and two in March, according to Morningstar.
Following the old pattern, many of the new funds are aimed at red-hot corners of the market, which currently means commodities and emerging-markets stocks. Some of these have proved instant hits: Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ), which appeared Nov. 10, already has about $342 million in assets. Claymore/AlphaShares China All-Cap ETF (YAO), launched in October, has $75 million.
Of course, if those types of investments turn out to be over-hyped--if, say, gold tumbles from its record highs or warnings about an emerging markets bubble prove true--the ETF industry could face a new round of criticism that its funds are too narrow, gimmicky and volatile.
In any case, although the ETF industry seems to be getting its swagger back, it still has a ways to go before it truly recreates its bygone sense of euphoria.
After all, in one month, January 2007, no fewer than 50 new funds hit the market, a level that suggests another type of bubble was taking place: one in ETFs.
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