BlackRock Takes ETF Prices to the Core

by Will Ashworth | October 23, 2012 1:25 pm

The battle for ETF market share continued this week as BlackRock (NYSE:BLK[1]) completed its iShares “Core” lineup.

iShares Core (in the words of BlackRock itself) is “a suite of 10 competitively priced and tax-efficient ETFs that help you keep more of what you earn.” Six of the funds are previously existing ETFs featuring newly lowered prices[2] (and in some cases, new tickers); the remaining four slots were filled by new funds launched this week.

While I wouldn’t call any of the new products earth-shattering, BlackRock definitely is trying to appeal to those investors concerned about cost. Here’s a rundown of what’s new:

iShares Core MSCI Total International Stock ETF (NYSE:IXUS[3])

Fund Type: Foreign Large-Cap Blend
Expenses: 0.16%
Top Holdings: iShares S&P India Nifty 50 (NASDAQ:INDY[4]), iShares MSCI Russia Capped Index Fund (NYSE:ERUS[5]), Nestle (PINK:NSRGF[6])

Summary: The new fund is similar to the existing iShares MSCI ACWI ex US Index Fund (NASDAQ:ACWX[7]) in that it is a total market fund designed to replicate the performance of international equity markets in both developed and emerging markets excluding the United States. The most noticeable difference between the IXUS and the ACWX is the cost — IXUS is 18 basis points cheaper. Also, the ACWX’s base index covers just 85% of the global equity markets outside the U.S., whereas the new fund’s base index covers 99%. As a result, the IXUS holds 3,329 stocks compared to 1,123 for the ACWX.

iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSE:IEMG[8])

Fund Type: Diversified Emerging Markets
Expenses: 0.18%
Top Holdings: iShares India Index Fund (BZX:INDA[9]), Samsung Electronics, MSCI Chile Investable Market Index Fund (NYSE:ECH[10])

Summary: Just as the IXUS uses a broader investable market index, so too does the IEMG. While it has 1,588 current holdings invested in 21 emerging-market countries, the existing iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund (NYSE:EEM[11]) has just 832 holdings invested in those same 21 countries. Like the IXUS, the IEMG is cheaper than its existing alternative — expenses are 49 basis points lower than the EEM. Once again, those driven by price should like the new fund much better.

iShares Core MSCI EAFE ETF (NYSE:IEFA[12])

Fund Type: Foreign Large Blend
Expenses: 0.14%
Top Holdings: Nestle, HSBC Holdings (NYSE:HBC[13]), Novartis (NYSE:NVS[14])

Summary: Sounding like a broken record, the two major differences found in the previous funds exist here as well. The IEFA invests in 22 of 24 developed markets, excluding Canada and the U.S., and covers 99% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country (for about 2,524 holdings). This compares to 85% for the MSCI EAFE Index Fund (NYSE:EFA[15]), which has 926. A noticeable quirk is that neither fund invests in ETFs as part of the portfolio composition, preferring to stick with stocks outright; yet both IEMG and IXUS have at least two ETFs within their holdings. In terms of cost, the IEFA is 20 basis points cheaper than the EFA.

iShares Core Short-Term U.S. Bond ETF (NYSE:ISTB[16])

Fund Type: Intermediate-Term Bond
Expenses: 0.12%
Top Holdings: Various S&P-rated AA+ treasury notes

Summary: The two big differences between the new bond fund and the existing iShares Barclays 1-3 Year Treasury Bond Fund (NYSE:SHY[17]) is term and composition. The ISTB seeks to replicate the performance of the Barclays U.S. 1-5 Year Government/Credit Bond Index, which invests in both U.S. government Treasury notes and investment-grade corporate bonds of between one and five years in duration. The SHY restricts itself to U.S. treasuries of one to three years, hence its slightly better credit rating from Standard & Poor’s. Cost-wise, the new fund is just 3 basis points cheaper.

Bottom Line

The takeaway from the introduction of iShares’ four new funds is that the fee war — use that term sparingly at the risk of drawing fund providers’ ire[18] — between BlackRock, Vanguard, Schwab (NYSE:SCHW[19]) and others is still red-hot.

As for the funds themselves: They’re plain vanilla, which isn’t a bad thing.

As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. BLK:
  2. newly lowered prices:
  3. IXUS:
  4. INDY:
  5. ERUS:
  6. NSRGF:
  7. ACWX:
  8. IEMG:
  9. INDA:
  10. ECH:
  11. EEM:
  12. IEFA:
  13. HBC:
  14. NVS:
  15. EFA:
  16. ISTB:
  17. SHY:
  18. drawing fund providers’ ire:
  19. SCHW:

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