Black Rock predicts that global exchange-traded fund assets will reach $2 trillion by the end of next year, in its latest “ETF Landscape: Industry Review.

In the United States, ETFs have been most popular among retail investors, but are attracting more attention from institutions. BlackRock also noted that the U.S. ETF industry is at a “crossroads,” and may soon see tax and regulatory changes.

About 14% of U.S. pension funds, endowments and foundations used ETFs last year, according to a yearly study by Greenwich Associates. Institutional money came to about half of all U.S. assets in ETFs. Almost half of the institutional users said they used ETFs for “tactical” tasks to manage portfolios. About a fifth said they used the funds for “strategic or long-term decisions.” Another fifth said they used ETFs for both tactical and long-term purposes.

Almost 55% of institutions said that they expected to use ETFs more, including a fifth that expected their ETF assets to grow by 5% to 10%. About 20% said they would invest less money in ETFs.

Globally, iShares is the largest ETF provider in terms of both number of products (476 ETFs) and assets ($593.6 billion), reflecting 43.4% market share. State Street Global Advisors is second with 118 products, assets of  $202.2 billion and 14.8% market share. Vanguard is third with 66 products, assets of $157.7 billion and 11.5% market share, as of the beginning of March.

Regulators are noticing a surge in products that may not meet the basic features of an ETF.  “We seeing funds calling themselves ETFs which: 1) do not provide transparency on their underlying portfolios; 2) do not offer in-kind creation/redemption; and 3) do not have real-time indicative Net Asset Values (NAVs),” the BlackRock authors wrote. “There are also products that are not even funds which are being called ETFs.” Hedge funds and stock-picking funds are sometimes presented in an “ETF wrapper without maintaining the above basic features of an ETF.” 

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