BlackRock Inc., the world’s biggest provider of exchange-traded funds, said U.S. ETFs that focus on fixed-income investing are having the fastest start to a year on record.

Investors have poured $19.6 billion into U.S. fixed-income ETFs this year through Feb. 12, with $12.2 billion flowing into BlackRock’s iShares-branded fixed income funds, the New York-based firm said yesterday in an e-mail. Its iShares iBoxx High Yield Corporate Bond ETF gathered $2.4 billion this year, the most of any fixed income ETF, followed by iShares Barclays Short Treasury Bond ETF, which took in $2.2 billion.

Bill Gross’s abrupt departure in September from Pacific Investment Management Co. triggered $91.5 billion in client withdrawals from the Total Return fund he previously managed, and has set into motion an unprecedented amount of money. ETFs, bundles of securities that trade on an exchange like stocks and are often cheaper than active funds, have been a big beneficiary as investors have sought alternatives. BlackRock’s fixed income ETFs attracted $20.2 billion in new money in the fourth quarter.

“We’re continuing to see investors adopt fixed-income ETFs as an essential instrument for accessing the bond markets,” Matthew Tucker, the head of iShares fixed-income investment strategy at BlackRock, said in an e-mailed statement. “We see traditional bond buyers embracing the ability to access a diversified portfolio of bonds in an ETF that makes its holdings, costs and performance transparent to all investors.”

Investors have sought the perceived relative safety of U.S. government debt as talks between finance ministers of Greece and the euro zone fell apart and as Treasuries yield more than other sovereign bond markets, according to Tucker. Investors are also moving into high-yield debt “in a continued search for income,” he said.