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Leveraged ETFs: Desperate Times

Stocks in this article: SPY GLD EEM

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Leveraged ETFs need to mount a new sales effort or they may go the way of the dodo.

In the wake of Edward Jones' decision to stop offering the products, UBS followed with a similar decision, citing its long-term bias and the short-term nature of these products (in nearly all cases, one day).

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wells Fargo (WFC) is reviewing its policy as well and Ameriprise Financial "told its advisers to stop soliciting the purchase of the products."

It's clear that advisers with a greater fiduciary responsibility are quickly moving to remove these products from their offerings, which FINRA has said are unsuitable for retail investors (although they recently softened their position on the products, saying they are suitable as part of sophisticated strategies monitored by financial professionals).

The SPDR 2009 ETF Mid-Year Review shows that institutional ownership of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) (GLD) and iShares MSCI Emerging Markets (EEM) was 88 percent, 45 percent and 66 percent, respectively, at the end of June.

Of two ProShares UltraShort funds, 20+ Year Treasury (TBT) (TBT), S&P 500 (SDS), and Ultra Financials (UYG), institutional ownership was 24 percent, 11 percent, and 10 percent, respectively.

These numbers may slightly overstate the involvement of retail investors. Several of the leveraged funds have a very high daily turnover-- Direxion Financials Bull 3x (FAS) traded $36 billion worth of shares but finished June with $1.7 billion in assets. Even if that's the case, it does show that of those investors holding these products over multiple periods--a strategy which FINRA says should be done by professionals--most are retail investors.

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