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30 ETFs in one ecosystem but is there a favourite?

Arian Neiron is the Chief Executive and Managing Director for VanEck Australia and Head of Asia Pacific. VanEck is an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) issuer with 30 trusts worth over $10 billion listed on the ASX covering broad markets, sectors and thematics.


GH: In nine years since starting VanEck in Australia in 2013, you’ve launched 30 ETFs. How do you decide what's next?

AN: In the ETF industry, it seems like there's a new idea every second Monday. Some funds are common sense and some are a bit spicier or esoteric. We want to create an ecosystem, or a range of strategies within a portfolio. We always go back to our guiding principle, our raison d’etre.

It’s about democratising investing and ETFs are a fantastic platform. It’s about accessing the opportunities and we think about how the world is changing, such as geopolitical, structural or societal. And that presents a range of different opportunities reflected in asset prices.

We also leverage off the capabilities of the Australian team. We all come from active management backgrounds, plus the global firm was set up in 1955, so we also leverage off the franchise globally. If there’s a new idea, we stress test it, we look at modern finance theory, we speak to academics, we look at any empirical research, and we do our own research. We might speak to different index providers, or we partner with active managers. We think about what will withstand the test of time and it might take three to five years to process all these inputs.

GH: You've avoided the traditional cap-weighted indexes in favour of other types of indexes. For example, your Australian broad market index is based on an equal-weighted index. Why have you gone down that path?

AN: Two things. Number one, it's beyond the usual approach of the standard ASX200, we have the Australian Equal Weight ETF (MVW) that equally weights the most liquid securities on the ASX. We're not trying to be simple market beta, and this is really the genesis of the firm. The second part is a by-product of the Australian leadership team and the firm's history with John van Eck. Active management is infused in the DNA of the business and that intellectual capital has been transposed into the ETF side. We are more of a smart beta pioneer.

We think if there's a genuine investing edge in active management then we look for a systematic, rules-based way. We look for identifiable alpha or persistent drivers of return, ensuring funds in our entire ecosystem are complementing each other. So, in international equities, we launched international quality (QUAL). In the small cap space, we went for international small and mid-caps (QSML) with a far bigger opportunity than Australian small caps. These are all different approaches to align with how we think about managing money for the long term.

GH: After launching 30 funds, have any of them done much better than you expected?

AN: It's always a pleasant surprise when a fund does well. One that’s done better than expected is our bank ETF. My parents and in-laws have owned banks since the 1990s and they have done well with dividends and franking credits, but our Australian bank ETF (MVB) has been a pleasant surprise. People were saying the banks are all correlated but one is more into residential mortgages, another in SME lending, so is it ‘much of a muchness’? The bank product has helped people to top up and the fund now has over $200 million doing exactly what it should do. Dividends and franking credits seem kind of vanilla boring, but boring can be really good.

GH: And what has done worse than you expected.

AN: The word ‘worse’ is harsh but what hasn't met expectations on gathering assets is in emerging markets, our broad-based fund (EMKT). It's a multi-factor approach and it looks at four persistent drivers of return (small companies, momentum, quality and value) and it combines them all. It holds about $50 million but why I'm disappointed is it is the number one by percentile across all periods against active managers in its sector with about 9% alpha for the year. We're charging only 69 basis points (0.69%) when the market beta is 0.65%p.a. I think in Australia, there’s no active manager incumbency but emerging markets is not an arena where people are strategically allocating, it's more of a 5% at best.

GH: I think that's a widespread emerging markets experience, it’s a sector not in most portfolios. You have a range of thematic and sector ETS. Do you find that inflows and outflows go hot and cold depending on the news or the macro events of the day?

AN: I like to split thematics and sectors, they are quite different. On the sector side, infrastructure, property, even global health care, they have defensive earnings. Thematics is covering a large universe with a lot of market participants.

Australian ETFs are still in an embryonic stage at around $130 billion and it's really been a one-way street and flows have been more in than they have been out. But has the money really followed the momentum or the hot money for these thematic ideas? Some thematics in the market are flavour-of -the-month and returns look phenomenal for a year but it’s often profitless technology and then gravity hits as we have a reversion to the mean. We've not really experienced this because we don't proliferate a lot of thematics going from hot to cold.

In our space, we've got clean energy (CLNE) and video gaming and esports (ESPO) but we look at it more as structural trends. We do tend to see flows when there's momentum and strategies are performing well as investors chase historical returns as opposed to assessing fundamentals. When prices come off, it definitely puts the brakes on money coming in.

GH: We recently finished the first quarter of 2022, where did you have the biggest inflows and outflows?

AN: Investors are contending with a lot of geopolitical hurdles. Our best flows are in international quality, QUAL, the flight to quality is very strong. Also, our A-REITS (MVA) and global infrastructure (IFRA) have done well. A-REITS was a surprise and I think investors are still looking for income perhaps with a view that the 10-year bond has peaked and property responded favourably to that.

GH: And the other side of the ledger.

AN: A real surprise to me since VanEck is the biggest gold equity ETF issuer in the world and gold has risen strongly this year, we’ve had a bit of money come off the table in our gold miner EFT (GDX), especially since gold is seen as a hedge for inflation.

GH: With the majority of 2022 still to go, if you picked two of your funds that will do best over this calendar year, what would you forecast?

AN: I'm a big believer in diversification and people only talk about their good investments and not the ones that failed. But if I had to pick two from our suite, I would say gold equities (GDX) is well positioned given concerns in capital markets around valuations in a stagflation period, especially in a new inflation regime. Investors get operational leverage with gold companies, sustainable costs are low relative to the gold bullion price and balance sheets are clean. And if you look at simple ratios such as the price of gold companies relative to bullion, they are at record lows.

The second one is global infrastructure (IFRA). With aging utilities around the world and an estimated $60 trillion needed to spend by 2035, particularly in the US. Investors receive good, stable income streams, often regulated and CPI-linked with more compelling valuations than other securities. The more defensive nature over the long term with diversification should bode well for investors.

GH: And with 30 babies that you've given birth to, do you have a personal favourite, perhaps one that you're confident if you invested today, you’d probably still hold it 10 years from now?

AN: That’s like asking about your favourite child and you can't choose. One that's really my baby as it extends on my career is our equal weighting, MVW. A lot of my training was at Perpetual which is a strong fiduciary and fund manager. If you look at the ASX200, BHP is 11% to 12% concentration now, compounded by the cyclicality of the market. The Australian market is too concentrated across stocks and sectors, so we targeted liquidity and in large caps, there’s better price discovery than in small caps. I'm quite optimistic about Australian equities and I don't think we have the inflation conundrum that the US has. MVW also has good exposure to some great companies in the mid-cap space without moving too far away from the large caps.

GH: Can you give us some hints about what funds are in the pipeline?

AN: We’re always working on a few ideas but I’ll give you a bit of a teaser, it’s around the climate change megatrend and how to access that. And we’re looking at Bitcoin and Ether and cryptocurrency which creates a quite vicious debate, even internally, because we come from a more traditional asset management background. But we do think digital assets and decentralised finance done in a more regulated structure such as an ETF with market makers supporting it is a more appropriate way to do it.

Also, a lot of active managers have come to us to partner and we're looking at some long-standing and sustainable investment strategies, but nothing yet where I can really get down into the detail.

For me, the key question or consideration for investors with ETFs is while it's very exciting, always look under the bonnet like test driving a car, ask advice and know what you're getting into.


Graham Hand is Editor-at-Large at Firstlinks. Arian Neiron is CEO and Managing Director - Asia Pacific at VanEck, a sponsor of Firstlinks. This is general information only and does not take into account any person’s financial objectives, situation or needs.

For articles and papers from VanEck, click here.


April 18, 2022

The ETF market seems to be becoming very niche, with very narrow indices tracked. You think CBA might be good, so you create a big bank ETF. It seems to be trending toward stock picking. The market cap of them also seems smallish. Are they liquid enough to dump if need be?

Arian Neiron
April 19, 2022

Hi Harry. With all ETFs, the secondary market liquidity, ie the volume you see on ASX, is subservient to the underlying constituents. In the case of the banks ETF, the liquidity is as good as the underlying banks it holds.

April 14, 2022

One ETF that I wish existed in Australia is VYM nse. It consists of many well known, respected international companies and pays a decent dividend every three months. Further, some time ago when I googled, " which is the safest share in the world", VYM was one of five listed. Unfortunately it may be difficult for many investors to own in Australia due to the complexity of the Australian taxation system. This ETF however, in my opinion is ideal for investors seeking income, capital growth in a very safe ETF. I hope one day it will be replicated in Australia.

April 14, 2022

Why has the price of the Bentham capital securities fund GCAP fallen so much when it is floating rate (not affected by rising rates) and what influences the future price?

Arian Neiron
April 19, 2022

Hi Jack. There are a number of variables that impact pricing of global capital securities, credit spreads is one of them, and credit spreads widened in Europe and around the world as risk sentiment soured.


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