ETF Deathwatch For March 2017: Decade-Old ETFs Join/Leave

Although the ETF industry recently reached the 700 ETF closures milestone, there remains plenty of other zombie ETFs potentially headed for the graveyard. Historically, 26% of all ETFs brought to market have failed to survive. The March ETF Deathwatch contains 459 products (362 ETFs and 97 ETNs) that do not hold enough assets to be profitable for their sponsors or garner enough trading activity to attract new investors.

The list is by no means static. This month, 21 ETFs came off the list due to increased assets, increased trading, or a combination of both. Another one came off because it died. Meanwhile, 20 others joined the list—there never seems to be shortage of struggling ETFs.

Many ETFs bolt out of the gates and never experience ETF Deathwatch. Some ETFs need many months before investors discover their virtues, while others wait years for the catalyst that helps them thrive. One of the ETFs escaping this month is the PowerShares Russell 2000 Equal Weight ETF (EQWS), an ETF that was launched more than 10 years ago as the PowerShares Fundamental Pure Small Core (former ticker PXSC). Perhaps it was that change two years ago that helped it turn the corner.

Similarly, some ETFs with early success fade in later years. The ProShares UltraShort Semiconductors ETF (SSG) has been on the market for more than 10 years, but it just joined ETF Deathwatch this month.

A few ETFs have been added and removed from the list multiple times. These products are on the threshold, and one year’s asset gains can turn into another year’s loss. If you are a regular reader of this column, then you may recognize VanEck Vectors Poland (PLND) and iPath US Treasury Steepener ETN (STPP) as being part of this back-and-forth threshold group. As mentioned earlier, the list is not static, and it has been averaging about a 5% turnover each month. Being on ETF Deathwatch is not a death sentence; it is possible to leave in something other than a pine box.

The average asset level of these 459 zombie ETFs fell from $6.5 million to $6.4 million, and the quantity of products with less than $2 million in assets decreased from 92 to 89. The average age grew from 47.1 to 47.8 months, and the number of products more than 5 years of age increased from 166 to 174. There are 436 funds on this list with at least one zero-volume day during February. Additionally, 241 ETFs and ETNs did not trade on the last day of the month, including a dozen that went the entire month without a trade.

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