ETF Edge

Thematic tech ETFs see big price declines, but modest outflows. Unpacking the moves

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Thematic tech turmoil continues. Calculating the market impact

Turmoil has hit thematic tech ETFs.

Exchange-traded funds tracking cloud computing, video gaming, robotics and electric vehicle companies are some 10%-15% off their 52-week highs as investors opt for reopening trades over higher-growth plays.

But there's unusual action going on under the surface — though the ETFs are down, many have only seen modest outflows, a sign that those holding shares are along for the ride, Global X's Jay Jacobs told CNBC.

"A fund is really just a reflection of the average value of the stocks being held by that fund," Jacobs, his firm's senior vice president and head of research and strategy, said Monday on CNBC's "ETF Edge."

"If those stocks fall 10% but all the holders of that ETF are still perfectly fine holding the ETF, they're not necessarily going to see any redemptions," he said. "The fund might be down in value, but people are still hanging on."

The latest declines are likely temporary setbacks after the massive outperformance high-growth tech stocks have seen over the last year, Jacobs said.

"There's a little bit of a misconception in who's buying into these ETFs," he said. "Sometimes the market thinks it must just be retail buying a cloud computing ETF, but really, it's much more focused on financial advisors and even institutions."

Roughly half of Global X's 2020 inflows came from financial intermediaries such as brokers and advisors while 15% came from institutions. Global X's suite of thematic ETFs includes a cloud computing ETF (CLOU), a lithium and battery technology ETF (LIT), a robotics and artificial intelligence ETF (BOTZ), an autonomous and electric vehicle ETF (DRIV) and a video gaming ETF (HERO).

"These are serious investors sticking to long-term strategies and are holding these ETFs for the long term. They are not going to be affected by daily or weekly trends," Jacobs said.

Many of those investors have learned from experience, DataTrek Research co-founder Nick Colas said in the same "ETF Edge" interview.

"Sophisticated investors understand that the first couple of years investing in a big, disruptive trend, you might see some choppiness in years one, two and three because not all of those things are going to be winners," Colas said. "But as we get into years four through 10, the winners do begin to pay off. Think about it as buying every e-commerce company in 2000. A lot of them went bust, but you still outperformed massively because you owned Amazon."

External factors such as interest rates may contribute to near-term volatility, but those who understand and believe in the underlying technologies should take a longer-term approach, Colas said.

"The ETF structure really is an ideal way to play these themes because you're not betting on one or two companies, you're looking at the whole theme and saying I want to be there and I know the winners are somewhere in this list and I want to own them when they win," he said.

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