Asset management firms have been quick to bring new exchange-traded funds, ever increasingly popular, to market -- but many of them have been stymied by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been extremely slow to approve them, The Wall Street Journal reports.

In fact, there are 23 ETF applications currently awaiting approval at the SEC, some of which may contain dozens of individual funds, and the 12 new ETFs that ProFunds introduced last month first filed their registration statements with the Commission five years ago.

Part of the reason for the delay is that the funds are becoming increasingly more complex -- tracking exotic sectors of the market like commodities or currencies, or industry sub-sectors like energy equipment -- which makes it understandable that the approval process should take so long.

But a big contributing factor was the absence of a permanent director of the division of investment management over the past year. Andrew "Buddy Donahue didn't assume Paul Roye's old job until last month. Also, the SEC has been consumed by the fund trading scandal and new regulations over these past three years.

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox vowed that he is trying to improve the approval process for ETFs and that the Commission is "looking for opportunities to make the process routine [and to] make it easier and quicker for staff to complete their reviews."

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