Despite the most challenging fixed income market in decades, BlackRock projects that global bond ETF assets under management (AUM) will triple to USD5 trillion by 2030.
The extreme market volatility in the early days of the pandemic reinforced the versatility of bond ETFs, the firm writes. As a result, over the past two years more wealth managers have put bond ETFs at the centre of their portfolios and institutional adoption of bond ETFs has broadened and deepened.
“Bond ETFs have revolutionised fixed income investing as they provide instant access at transparent prices to hundreds of bond market exposures in ways that are accessible to all investors,” says Salim Ramji, Global Head of ETF and Index Investments at BlackRock.
“Bond ETFs have grown by proving to be useful and resilient investment tools during various market conditions including near-zero interest rates, pandemic-related market stresses and inflationary pressures. Bond ETFs have overcome many tests, and they have become the catalyst of a more modern, more digital and more transparent bond market.”
BlackRock pioneered bond ETFs 20 years ago and what started as four products has grown 23 per cent annually into a USD1.7 trillion industry with more than 1,400 products. Despite this growth, bond ETFs comprise just 2 per cent of the USD124 trillion fixed income asset class.
“The global bond ETF industry is growing faster than we expected, propelled by self-reinforcing and enduring adoption trends from our clients during the pandemic era,” says Carolyn Weinberg, Global Head of Product for ETF and Index Investments.
“We believe that the next wave of growth is just beginning. While much of this growth will come from increased adoption of existing products, we are excited for the innovations that incorporate more active management – which we believe will grow five times to USD1 trillion in assets by 2030.”
BlackRock’s new paper, All systems go, identifies four trends that the firm believes will help drive further adoption of bond ETFs, with details on trading dynamics, ETF usage patterns, market structure evolution, and implementation strategies of new investment concepts.
1. Building blocks in evolved 60/40 portfolios: Bond ETFs’ market share in the fund industry is 24 per cent compared to 14 per cent five years ago as more investors are blending bond ETFs with active strategies, moving from one type of fixed income exposure to another, reframing the traditional 60/40 portfolio and bond construction in the process.
2. Tools for seeking active returns: Institutional clients—from pensions funds to active managers— are among the fastest-growing adopters as they turn to bond ETFs to adapt their portfolios to changing market conditions, price individual bonds and portfolios, reduce transaction costs, manage liquidity, and hedge risk.
Further tailwinds come from recent regulatory changes in the US, putting bond ETFs on a more level playing field with individual bonds and allowing US insurers to use ETFs more freely.
Eight of the 10 largest US insurers use bond ETFs, and five of them started using them after the volatile markets of March 2020.
3. Increasingly precise sources of potential returns: The number of bond ETFs available to trade has doubled since 2015 with the industry expanding investor choice from tracking broad market segments to providing more targeted exposures by region, credit risk or maturity to offering advanced strategies that incorporate active management.
Investors are implementing these strategies alongside traditional bond ETFs, individual bonds and other fixed income instruments, and BlackRock believes this next generation of more active bond ETFs can reach USD1 trillion in AUM by 2030, up from about USD200 billion today.
4. Catalysts for modernising bond markets: Market structure changes amid the 2008-2009 global financial crisis prompted the first wave of bond ETF adoption. Since then, the growth of bond ETFs and their ecosystem has helped drive advances in electronic trading and algorithmic pricing of individual bonds, improving transparency and liquidity in underlying bond markets. Electronic trading volumes in U.S. investment grade bonds at the end of March 2022 accounted for 36 per cent of total traded volumes for those bonds, up from 21 per cent in early 2019.
Meanwhile, electronic trading volumes of European corporate bonds grew 61 per cent between 2017 and 2020, reflecting the needs for smaller institutions, such as asset managers and wealth managers to seek alternative means of fixed income market access.