The conversion of the first few mutual funds into cheaper, simpler exchange-traded vehicles could herald a broader trend.
One of the most persistent investment trends is the migration of money out of stock mutual funds and into exchange-traded funds, which are easier to trade, have lower operating expenses and often have favorable tax treatment.
Over the last 10 years, a net $900 billion has flowed out of stock mutual funds and $1.8 trillion has flowed into stock E.T.F.s, according to Morningstar.
Eager to give the public what it wants, and to keep shareholders from walking out the door with their assets, some fund providers have begun to convert stock mutual funds into E.T.F.s. Others run E.T.F. versions of their popular mutual funds, and one company, Vanguard, allows tax-free direct swaps of mutual fund positions into equivalent E.T.F.s.
E.T.F.s are simpler and cheaper for managers to run than mutual funds. Investors benefit when the savings and convenience are passed on to them, and from other inherent advantages that drove the rise in E.T.F.s in the first place.