The creation story of the first exchange-traded fund is actually the best way to understand how they work. And it's not just educational, it's entertaining. Like the PC and the MP3, the story of the creation of SPY -- which turned 30 this year -- is full of characters, twists and turns, and subplots. In the end, the product launched an industry that's reshaping not just investing but the entire financial ecosystem. This six-episode miniseries will weave together interviews with the founding fathers and other key players that help investors better understand the ETF and how we got here.
SPY wasn’t just a hit product, it was an inspiration for an entire industry to take off. But it didn’t happen overnight. It took about 10 years for the ETF structure to be utilized for other asset classes and strategies, which today seem normal but at the time were revolutionary.
On this installment we look at many of the game changing products that followed, including the first bond ETF, the first gold ETF, Vanguard’s entry and the rise of smart-beta, which was active management’s way to get into the action.
SPDR S&P 500, or SPY, is the world’s largest ETF today with about $240 billion in assets, but it wasn’t much to look at when it debuted in 1993. Some days it was on “volume life support,” trading as little as 18,000 shares; there was even talk of pulling the plug. Yet true believers, guerrilla marketing, and a booming 1990s stock market helped the product gain favor. And once SPY took off, the markets were forever changed. This episode also explores how SPY soon inspired a host of other ETFs, from international and sectors to fixed income and gold.
Just as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak weren’t the only two geeks in a garage working on a computer in the 1970s, the AMEX wasn’t the only exchange looking to get a market basket instrument listed. The late 1980s saw multiple attempts to create something like an ETF, including SuperShares, Equity Index Participation Shares, Cash Index Participation Shares and the Toronto 35 Index Participation Units.
Ultimately, SPY gets – and deserves – the lion’s share of the credit as the first ETF. But by no means was AMEX alone in the race; they were just the winners. This episode looks at the race, the players involved and why their products became historical footnotes.
When the SPDR S&P 500 Trust (SPY) was submitted to the SEC in 1988, George Michael’s "Faith" was the No. 1 song and Magic Johnson led the Lakers to another NBA Championship. By the time SPY finally launched in 1993, Nirvana had ushered in the grunge era and Michael Jordan had taken over the NBA. While the SEC wrestled with this unique product -- which was almost like a foreign object that had landed on their desks -- the whole culture had changed.
In those four long years, there was much back and forth between the SEC and the SPY teams over logistics, structure, and the creation-redemption process, which was inspired by commodities warehouses. The patience and labor paid off for the ETF's creators, who figured out how to keep fees low and also earn some unintended windfalls, such as the products’ tax efficiency.
Government reports are known more for curing insomnia than providing inspiration for revolutionary products. The October 1987 Market Break Report might be an exception. A paragraph deep in the SEC's 800-page white paper happened to outline a “product” for trading baskets of stocks. On this episode of “The ETF Story,” you'll learn how those words gave Nate Most and Steve Bloom the idea for what would become the exchange-traded fund. You'll also hear from Vanguard founder John Bogle, who passed on Most's pitch -- and who may have shaped the ETF in the process.
Exactly 31 years ago today, the stock market fell 23 percent, the worst day ever for stocks two times over. It was in the aftermath of that crash that the idea for exchange-traded funds was born. And it came from a very unlikely place: the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.