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BlackRock is winning at making less from junk ETFs

BlackRock is winning a battle to attract investors with lower fees, even as success takes its toll.

The iShares Broad USD High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (USHY) added a record $368 million Thursday, after discreetly slashing its fee in March. BlackRock’s move came after State Street lowered the price of one of its junk funds, and was followed by Deutsche Bank’s DWS two weeks later.

USHY is the only one of the three funds — which now all charge $1.50 for every $1,000 invested — to add more than $50 million since the fee cuts, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Asset managers are reluctantly accepting lower revenue in exchange for market share as investors seek out the cheapest products. More expensive junk funds run by BlackRock and State Street lost money to withdrawals this week.

NYSE BlackRock Tickr Image for March 2017
Blackrock Inc. signage is displayed on a monitor on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Friday, March 31, 2017. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

“This is being driven by the fee compression,” said Todd Rosenbluth, the director of ETF research at CFRA. “You get a snowball effect when there’s money moving into the newer high-yield bond ETFs. It can generate greater interest from other investors because they see the trades were executed in a favorable manner and ask ‘why can’t I do that too and pay less money?’”

State Street’s larger, pricier fund — the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (JNK) — saw almost 10 million shares worth about $356 million trade; less than one minute later, USHY printed a large buy order.

“Just like equities, last year was a volatile year and the fourth quarter of 2018 did a number on the returns of risk assets,” an expert says.
March 27

Defections and cannibalization are growing risks for fund issuers. BlackRock steered into that trend in 2012 when it started a range of cheap “core” funds for buy-and-hold investors, while encouraging active traders to use more established (and liquid) funds that cost more. Some of those low-fee products are now surpassing their pricier siblings.

USHY still has a long way to go in that respect. The fund manages $1.2 billion, about 8% of the assets overseen by the iShares iBoxx High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (HYG). The fund, which costs over three times as much, saw $354 million pulled on Thursday.

“While we expect HYG will remain the vehicle of choice for professional traders and other investors, USHY is ushering in a new generation of bond ETFs that investors can also use in a variety of ways,” said Melissa Garville, a spokeswoman for BlackRock.

Bloomberg News