Building infrastructure

Turning point

How volatility and performance in 2020 accelerated institutional adoption of fixed income ETFs

Keep it brief

  • Unprecedented financial asset volatility in 2020 showed the world that fixed income ETFs are now integral to efficient bond markets.
  • As a result of the strong performance of fixed income ETFs during challenging conditions, asset owners and asset managers immediately ramped up adoption.
  • We explore four case studies that illustrate institutions are using iShares fixed income ETFs to manage portfolios.

Capital at risk. The value of investments and the income from them can fall as well as rise and are not guaranteed. Investors may not get back the amount originally invested. All data as at Feb 2020.

The largest and most heavily traded fixed income exchange traded funds (ETFs) performed a critical role during the extreme financial asset volatility experienced in the first half of 2020.

Amid the market turbulence, fixed income ETFs demonstrated that they are now integral to efficient fixed markets.

In their biggest test to date, flagship fixed income ETFs provided deep liquidity, continuous price transparency and lower transaction costs than were available in individual bonds. The ability to buy and sell portfolios of bonds held in ETFs helped investors navigate extreme price dislocations and sidestep a legacy marketplace that remains fragmented and comparatively difficult to access even for institutional investors. In many cases, institutional investors chose to use fixed income ETFs rather than fixed income derivatives.

As a result, asset owners — including pension funds and insurance companies — and asset managers immediately ramped up adoption. In recent months these large investors have increased their use of fixed income ETFs at scale, regularly with positions sized in the hundreds of millions of dollars, as substitutes for individual bonds and fixed income instruments.

Fixed income ETF asset growth is still in the beginning phases as adoption by institutions accelerates. Global fixed income ETF assets accounted for US$1.3 trillion at the end of June 2020—growth of 30% in just one year; still, ETFs represent only about 1% of the US$100 trillion global fixed income securities market.1

Bolstered by recent adoption patterns, BlackRock believes that institutional investors will help propel global fixed income ETF assets to US$2 trillion by 2024.2

1 BlackRock, Bloomberg (as of 26 June 2020). Global fixed income assets were US$1.322 trillion as of 26 June 2020; they surpassed US$1 trillion for the first time in June 2019.
2 BlackRock, “Primed for Growth: Bond ETFs and the Path to $2 Trillion,” June 2019.

Download our whitepaper on institutional adoption of fixed income ETFs

Read four case studies that illustrate how iShares fixed income ETFs can help institutions achieve better outcomes in their portfolios.