Beyond Bulls & Bears


ETFs, electric cars and market cannibalization

Exchange-traded funds are certainly popular with investors—here’s a look at how they can coexist in harmony with other investment vehicles, from David Mann, Head of ETF Product & Capital Markets.

While at a neighbor’s house earlier this month for a summer barbeque, I enjoyed an added perk besides the amazing smoked brisket—checking out the two Fords parked side by side in his driveway. One was a fully electric Mustang, and next to it was Ford’s newest gas-guzzling Bronco. Since I’ve owned an electric car for seven years now, I was curious how much he enjoyed the Mustang (short answer: a lot). We then chatted about the auto industry, wondering if this fully electric Mustang might cannibalize sales of Ford’s popular internal combustion engine sports cars.

Market cannibalization. The first time I even thought about that term was in the late 80s when the British pop rock band Fine Young Cannibals cornered the radio airwaves market with their hit “She Drives Me Crazy.” Good luck getting that song out of your head! Now, this term seems to pop up all the time in discussions about the mutual fund industry whenever active managers also have an exchange-traded fund lineup.

In June, Franklin Templeton launched an exchange-traded fund (ETF) run by the same team that manages the firm’s largest mutual fund. In preparation for potential investor questions, I was ready to discuss how this differentiated offering can fit nicely within client portfolios as well as how a multi-asset strategy can deliver income across all market cycles. Heck, I was even ready to have a broader discussion regarding the popularity of active ETFs this year (25% of year-to-date flows through June 20, 20231) and the general benefits of the ETF wrapper. Nope. The first question was: “Isn’t this ETF going to cannibalize your existing mutual funds?” So today, let’s discuss the misconceptions surrounding cannibalization.

In my nearly 100 posts over the past several years, I’ve covered the merits of ETFs using analogies ranging from mattress shopping to quantum physics to baseball batting averages. Over that time, ETF growth has been astonishing. Currently, there are more than 3,000 ETFs with over US$7 trillion in assets in the United States.2 So, it’s hard to argue against investor interest in ETFs.

Of course, there are plenty of investors who prefer other fund vehicles as well. Separately managed accounts (SMAs) continue to gain traction with advisors. Even the traditional mutual fund has alternated between inflows and outflows over the past five years. There’s no doubt that some investors may hold a strong preference for one vehicle while other investors may prefer to use all three, depending on the exposure and type of account.

Cannibalization implies that we hold a pessimism over mutual funds and were therefore motivated to offer an ETF as a substitute. That is not the case here at all. In this case, investors like the investment philosophy of our team but prefer to also have an option in the form of an ETF. This is not cannibalization. It is merely providing different vehicle choices.

Going back to the conversation with my neighbor, I would imagine Ford’s thinking was quite similar. My wife likes her hybrid car and is in no hurry to replace it. She also likes having gas options for longer road trips. For me, I really wanted an electric car due to 1) the cost of gas for my 100+ mile daily commute and 2) access to the California high-occupancy vehicle (HOV/carpool) lanes. The question for Ford was whether they wanted to have options for both of us, and their answer is obviously “yes.”

While we may not all agree on which type of car—or investment—best suits our individual needs and goals, I think we can all agree that it’s good to have options!



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1. Source: Bloomberg.

2. Source: Bloomberg, as of June 20, 2023.

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