When Grail Advisors officially closes two of its active exchange-traded funds prior to the market bell on Aug. 30, the total universe of active ETFs will fall to just 28.

Tom Graves, an ETF analyst with Standard & Poor’s Equity Research, said that only 14 active ETFs have debuted since Sept. 15, 2009.

Grail’s doomed ETFs certainly failed to cause any kind of market splash since they launched last October. In fact, after 10 months on the market, the two funds that are being shuttered, Technology (RPQ) and RP Financials (RFF), had garnered only $3 million and $2 million in assets, respectively.

But these active ETFs are in similarly lackluster company. Of the 28 actively managed ETFs on the market (excluding quant, or rule-based, ETFs that rebalance periodically but aren’t truly actively managed), about two-thirds of them account for less than $30 million in assets.

Active equity ETFs, of which there are 11 in total, account for $100 million in assets all told, only a tiny portion of the $2 billion active ETF market, which is itself dwarfed by the total ETF universe of $815.4 billion, according to Morningstar.

That isn’t to say all active ETFs are a flop. Graves said that of Wisdom Tree’s nine active currency ETFs, three of them hold more than $200 million in assets. In fact, the most successful active ETF is Wisdom Tree’s Chinese Currency ETF, which currently accounts for $600 million in assets.

Active fixed income ETFs have also proved popular. Pimco’s MINT ETF, which invests in short-duration fixed income assets, has $334 million in assets to date.

Despite their narrow inroads, Graves predicts active ETFs may yet find a broader footing. “They don’t provide a price advantage because of their increased trading and research costs,” he said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a mutual fund company launch an active ETF that mirrors what it already has [on the mutual fund side].”

Another might be actively managed fund of funds of equity ETFs, Graves said.


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