Wednesday, 11 January 2012

BlackRock Purchase of Claymore ETFs - Do the Smart Thing Please!

Today's announcement that BlackRock will acquire Canadian ETF provider Claymore could be a good thing for BlackRock and for ETF investors, if some smart, and not dumb changes, ensue.

Claymore charges quite high MERs - about 0.5 % too high - for its ETFs in comparison to those of BMO Financial, iShares and Vanguard. The takeover is a great opportunity for BlackRock, which already owns iShares in Canada, to lower the Claymore MERs and bring them in line. This will attract more investors and not cannibalize its iShares ETFS. In the USA, similar fundamental RAFI-based ETFs (e.g. Invesco Powershares US broad market equity fund trading under symbol PRF) have expense ratios about 0.3% lower than Claymore's, though even that is too high.

Why would BlackRock not lose by lowering fees? Claymore's ETFs are considered to be actively managed (though I do not agree with this characterization, that's the dominant public perception), more an alternative to actively managed mutual funds than to traditional passive market-cap weighted index ETFs. Let BlackRock take on the mutual fund industry with a much more compelling price proposition. After all, Claymore's ETFs already have most of the attractive features of mutual funds - auto & free DRIP and Systematic Withdrawal, Pre-authorized chequing purchases.

The dumb strategy would be to leave Claymore as is, with continued stagnation, or to raise fees, a recipe for investor flight. Claymore's ETFs are being left in the dust. For instance, the flagship Canadian equity fund Canadian Fundamental Index ETF (CRQ) has only $218 million in assets despite being started 3 years before BMO's Dow Jones Canada Titans 60 Index ETF (ZCN), which has $604 million in assets.

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