There are 15 fewer ETFs trading today. Friday was the last day of trading for 15 HealthShares ETFs, bringing the official lifetime ETF death count to 50. Calendar year 2008 has not been kind to un-popular ETFs, with 40 of the 50 ETF deaths occurring this year. (Note: the quantities change to 43 and 53 when the three Lehman ETNs discussed below are added in).
The year is only 73% over, and at the current pace, we could see the death count climb to 60 before year-end. I fully expect the count to reach triple digits in 2009, probably in the first half.
The reason for this is basic economics — supply and demand. The supply of ETF IPOs (new ETFs) coming to market is unprecedented. More than 180 ETFs have made their debut in 2008 so far. Most investors would be hard-pressed to name 10 of them. Therein lies the problem. It is virtually impossible for 180 new products to attract enough attention (and assets) to make them economically viable.
I published my initial ETF Deathwatch list on August 30, 2008. The 15 HealthShares that stopped trading on Friday were excluded from this list because their closure had already been announced. Look for an update in early October.
Two of the ETFs on that list are in critical condition, but have not been officially declared dead yet. Opta S&P Listed Private Equity Index Net Return ETN (PPE) and Opta Lehman Brothers Commodity Index Pure Beta Total Return ETN (RAW) are not currently trading. These two products, along with Lehman Brothers Commodity Index Pure Beta Agriculture Total Return ETN (EOH) are a specific type of Exchange Traded Product known as Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs). ETNs are essentially bonds linked to an index that tracks equities, commodities, or bonds. Since they are bonds, they also carry the risk of default by the ETN sponsor. Lehman was the sponsor of these three ETNs, and Lehman’s filing for bankruptcy places their future in jeopardy. There has been no official word from Lehman regarding these products, but trading has been halted.