The combined assets of exchange-traded funds fell just shy of $160 billion in December, topping November's inflow of $132.7 billion and increasing nearly 50% on December 2002's inflow of $102.1 billion, according to the ICI.

ETF shares issued exceeded those that were redeemed by $12.6 billion. ETFs are more tax efficient than most mutual funds, and feature low operating and transaction costs, with no sales loads or minimum investment requirements.

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