Strategic Use of ETFs By Pension Funds Will Grow, Says Research

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New research by BlackRock claims that pension funds will increase their strategic use of ETFs, and that the instruments will become a bigger part of pensions’ investment portfolios.

From Investments and Pensions Europe:

For “certain investors and certain portfolio usages”, ETFs might represent a cheaper route to access equity indices, suggest the authors. Pension funds are among the clients that iShares says are buying into the trend of moving away from futures as the traditional instrument of choice for institutional investors looking for beta and towards ETFs.

“Pension funds are very big passive investors and a number have concluded that ETFs are a better way to access beta than the increasingly expensive futures route,” says Ursula Marchioni, head of equity strategy and ETP research at iShares EMEA.


Pension funds have, of course, been known to use ETFs tactically, to ensure continued exposure while in the throes of transition management, for instance, but Marchioni predicts that strategic use will also increase.

“Approximately 65% of US pension funds already declare they use ETFs for strategic investment, buying and holding for two years or more,” she says, citing Greenwich Associates research (figure 1).

Read the research here.

Study: Pension Funds Flock to ETFs for Diversification

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A recent survey of European institutional investors, including almost 70 pension funds, attempted to pin down why institutional investors are driven towards ETFs.

The research, conducted by Greenwich Associates, concluded that most investors are drawn toward ETFs because of the diversification they promise.

More on the results from Investments & Pensions Europe:

Pension fund allocations to exchange-traded fund (ETFs) are driven by diversification and tactics over short-term transition management, research shows.


The study, sponsored by BlackRock, also found 69% of pension fund investors used ETFs for international diversification.

More than half (53%) used the funds for tactical adjustment in portfolios, as well as part of a core allocation.

Only 9% used ETFs for transitional management, with roughly one in 10 using the strategy for interim beta or overlay management.

The report said: “Despite the widespread use of ETFs for tactical applications, few institutions are employing ETFs as true short-term investments.

“Less than 2% of study participants report average holding periods of a month or shorter. In practice, European pension funds seem to be employing ETFs in the most strategic manner.”

The full report can be accessed here.


Photo by  Nick Wheeler via Flickr CC License

Fixed-Income ETFs Gain Traction With Canadian Funds


Exchange-traded funds are becoming an increasingly popular investment vehicle for institutional investors around the world, but that trend is especially true among Canadian pension funds, according to a new study.

One type of ETF was particularly popular: fixed-income.

The study, which interviewed public and corporate pension funds as well as foundations and endowments, found that 57 percent of institutional asset managers are using fix-income ETFs in 2014. In 2013, that number was 45 percent.

The report, produced by Greenwich Associates, offered some reasons for the growing popularity of bond ETFs. From the Financial Post:

“Increasingly, institutional funds and asset managers are viewing ETFs not simply as useful tools for making tactical adjustments to portfolios, but rather as efficient methods for implementing new investment strategies.”

“In particular, ETFs appear to be steadily gaining traction in fixed income — a trend that could reflect investors’ search for better and more efficient approaches to the asset class in a shifting interest-rate environment.”

“Institutions’ heavy usage of passive strategies is helping to drive the growth of ETFs in fixed income,” the study said. “Virtually all the institutional funds and asset managers employ passive strategies in fixed income, and nearly a quarter invest more than half of fixed-income assets in index strategies.”

Interestingly, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Of the Canadian institutions holding fixed-income ETFs, more than 20 percent said they had started using the vehicles less than two years ago.

Even more popular than fixed-income are equity ETFs, which are employed by the vast majority of Canadian institutional investors. From FP:

Despite this growing penchant for bond funds, equity-related issues remain the most popular ETF investment among institutions, with nearly 80% using the funds in their domestic stock portfolios and 85% employing them to gain U.S. equity exposure.

ETFs are primed to continue their upward trend. According to the study, 40 percent of institutions are planning to increase their allocation to ETFs next year. Only 2 percent of respondents said they plan to reduce allocations.