NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The National Stock Exchange's monthly ETF fund flow data helped provide insights into investor preferences during the final volatile weeks of summer.

Overall, the market's downward action during August weighed on the industry, pushing total assets below the $1.10 trillion level. In total, assets saw a more than $43 billion decline from July.

Interestingly, despite this notable hit to total assets, investors continued to show interest in ETFs. In August, the combined ETF and ETN industry saw more than $2 billion flow into its universe. This is a considerable decrease from July, when the industry witnessed net inflows totaling $13 billion

Fund sponsors that saw the most substantial inflows included SSgA ( SST), Direxion, and Vanguard. Each company welcomed over $1 billion in assets. SSgA, the leader, saw over $4 billion enter.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, BlackRock ( BLK), PowerShares, and First Trust led outflows, seeing between $1 billion and nearly $5 billion each head for the exits.

From an individual product perspective, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF ( SPY) reigned as the biggest inflow recipient, gathering over $3.5 billion in assets. The SPDR Gold Shares ( GLD) sat at the other end of the list. Although for a short while, the fund managed to surpass SPY to become the largest ETF in the universe, net outflows totaling $1.5 billion helped ensure that the fund would remain seated in its second place spot for a while longer.

In August, defense was in vogue as indicated by investor interest in bond funds and defensive sector ETFs. SPY, the SPDR Barclays Capital 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF ( BIL), Utilities Select Sector SPDR ( XLU), Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR ( XLP) and iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund ( DVY) saw some of the ETF industry's heaviest inflows.

Despite this appetite for protection, not all safe haven ETFs fared so well. The iShares Barclays TIPS Fund ( TIP) and iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond Fund ( TLT) saw notable outflows totaling approximately $800 million and $400 million respectively.

Investors also steered clear of the Swiss franc. Although this safe haven currency has been a darling amongst investors fearful of the EU debt crisis, over $200 million flowed out of the CurrencyShares Swiss Franc Trust ( FXF) for the month.

A handful of additional outflow leaders included the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund ( EEM), Financial Select Sector SPDR ( XLF) and PowerShares QQQ ( QQQ).

EEM's $1.5 billion in outflows highlighted the investing public's general disinterest in emerging markets during the final weeks of the summer. iShares MSCI Hong Kong Index Fund ( EWH), iShares MSCI Mexico Investable Market Index Fund ( EWW), Market Vectors Russia ETF ( RSX), iShares MSCI South Korea Index Fund ( EWY), and iShares MSCI Taiwan Index Fund ( EWT) all scored spots among the top 20 outflow leaders.

Once again, the Vanguard Emerging Market ETF ( VWO) came out a relative winner. Like EEM, the fund saw net outflows during the month, but the decline was considerably less dramatic, indicating that long-term investors continue to favor this low cost alternative.

In a similar fashion, the iShares Gold Trust (IAU) scored a victory in the field of bullion-backed gold ETFs. In the face of GLD's industry leading outflows, the cheaper IAU managed to gather $575 million.

Despite the rocky action we saw in August, investors appear to have spent the month betting against volatility. The iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures ETN ( VXX) landed just shy of the top five outflow leaders, seeing over $750 million make for the exits. Meanwhile, the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term ETN ( XIV) gathered over $550 million.

Many of the factors that defined August's trading action will continue to influence preferences in September. Continue to watch the ETF industry to see how investors react.

Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.


At the time of publication, Dion Money Management owned the iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund, PowerShares QQQ, iShares Gold Trust, iShares MSCI Mexico Investable Market Index Fund and iShares Barclays TIPS Fund.