ETF Flows Reveal Shifting Sentiment

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- July experienced $13 billion of net inflows to exchange-traded funds, with iShares capturing one-third of the total, followed by State Street ( STT) (SPDRs), Vanguard, Invesco/PowerShares and U.S. Commodity Funds. Direxion led the list of firms seeing net outflows (almost $0.9 billion), with ProShares close behind.

Among individual ETFs, the SPDR S&P 500 ( SPY) gained the most assets, $3 billion, although year to date, the fund has seen $27 billion leave. Next was U.S. Natural Gas ( UNG), which saw $1.2 billion in net inflows. Other ETFs with large inflows included iShares Russell 2000 ( IWM), PowerShares QQQ ( QQQQ), Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock ETF ( VWO) and SPDRTechnology ( XLK).

Outflow leaders were iShares S&P 500 ( IVV) and SPDR Gold Shares ( GLD). Both saw $1.5billion exit. Direxion Daily Financial Bull 3X ( FAS) saw $1 billion leave, almost 60% oftotal assets from June. Volume was still enormous in FAS -- more than $37 billion worth of shareschanged hands in July. Other ETFs seeing large outflows were iShares MSCI Brazil ( EWZ), ProShares Ultra S&P 500 ( SSO) and ProShares Ultra Financials ( UYG).

Last month we saw a potential shift from iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ( EEM) to Vanguard Emerging Market Stock ETF. This month it appears investors shifted from iShares S&P 500Index to SPDR S&P 500. There was a difference in fees between EEM and VWO,but IVV is actually the cheaper of the S&P 500 Index ETFs, with 0.09% in expenses vs. 0.0945% for SPY. It is also possible that large institutions making allocation decisions account for the one-time shifts.

Outflows from the gold ETF were a sign of reduced fear, as safe-haven investors likely migrated from gold into equities or debt. U.S. Natural Gas remains very popular with investors, despite its shortcomings and despite futures ETFS coming under fire.

The rest of the ETFs tracked general market sentiment. Technology and emerging markets were popular destinations for investors, while the leveraged ETFs came under attack from the Massachusetts attorney general, and several brokerages restricted access to, stoppedsoliciting, or outright banned the products.

While most emerging markets ETFs saw inflows, Brazil ETFs saw outflows. The exception was the Market Vectors Brazil Small Cap ( BRF), which saw $59 million in inflows.

Interestingly, it was the leveraged-long ETFs that saw the greatest net outflows in July. And ProShares Ultra Short QQQ ( QID) was among the top 15 ETFs in terms of net inflows. One explanation is that inverse funds are available to investors who otherwise cannot go short, but it's also possible that investors were using them to hedge, rather than to gamble, which would bolster the argument in favor of these funds' existence.

ETF Net Inflows/Outflows for July
Top Five: (millions)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) $3,015
US Natural Gas (UNG) $1,167
iShares Russell 2000 (IWM) $981
PowerShares QQQ (QQQQ) $932
Vanguard Emerging Markets (VWO) $913
Bottom Five (millions)
ProShares Ultra S&P 500 (SSO) ($377)
iShares MSCI-Brazil (EWZ) ($514)
Direxion Daily Financials Bull 3x (FAS) ($984)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) ($1,517)
iShares S&P 500 (IVV) ($1,517)

-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.

At the time of publication, Dion held PowerShares QQQ.

Don Dion is president and founder of Dion Money Management, a fee-based investment advisory firm to affluent individuals, families and nonprofit organizations, where he is responsible for setting investment policy, creating custom portfolios and overseeing the performance of client accounts. Founded in 1996 and based in Williamstown, Mass., Dion Money Management manages assets for clients in 49 states and 11 countries. Dion is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts and Maine and has more than 25 years' experience working in the financial markets, having founded and run two publicly traded companies before establishing Dion Money Management.

Dion also is publisher of the Fidelity Independent Adviser family of newsletters, which provides to a broad range of investors his commentary on the financial markets, with a specific emphasis on mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. With more than 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and 29 other countries, Fidelity Independent Adviser publishes six monthly newsletters and three weekly newsletters. Its flagship publication, Fidelity Independent Adviser, has been published monthly for 11 years and reaches 40,000 subscribers.

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