Exchange-traded-fund investors were not in the buying mood in August.

Whenever they opened their wallets, they chose products that offered better-than-nothing yields, dividends or safety, according to figures State Street Global Advisors.

Their malaise sent overall ETF assets under management (AUM) down 2.7%, or $21.8 billion. By the end of August, ETFs represented $800 billion in 923 funds. The biggest culprits were traditional ETFs, categorized by size and style, which dropped $20.3 billion and $3.8 billion, respectively. Overall, the picture was worse: every single style and size ETF saw its AUMs drop during August, by a total $25.1 billion.

Instead, investors stuck to known safety plays. Fixed-income and commodity ETFs registered the most significant gains, at $3.8 billion and $3.4 billion, respectively. Inversed/leveraged ETFs pulled in $952 million, however, a sign of investors looking for income any way they could. In another sign that investors were looking for income, they poured $440 million into the dividend/fundamental category.

“The dividend category is the one equity space where there has been a lot of investor interest,” said Tom Anderson, director of ETF strategy and research State Street Global Advisors. “There has been strong flow into dividend ETFs. Yields are attractive at over 3%, compared to bond funds.” Another plus is that dividend-oriented ETFs are technically stock funds. Although equities are tepid now, they could reverse course and rebound. Investors that hold those types of ETFs will benefit from the rally. 

Indeed, the only categories that were up year-to-date through the end of August were fixed-income, which gained $31.1 billion; commodities, which took in $11 billion; and dividend/fundamentals, which grew by $4.4 billion.

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