BlackRock cuts fees, builds bond indexes in bid 'to be ubiquitous'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The world’s largest asset manager BlackRock Inc on Thursday launched four bond exchange-traded funds and cut fees on another in an effort to lure more investors to its products from traditional debt markets.

The BlackRock logo is seen outside of its offices in New York City, U.S., October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The moves come as BlackRock estimates bond ETFs attracted $84 billion so far in 2017, a record for the first-half of the year, and the company establishes a new business line building its own indexes.

“We have aspirations to be ubiquitous in every securities market,” said Martin Small, U.S. Head of iShares at BlackRock, in an interview with Reuters.

In a first for the company, iShares Edge Investment Grade Enhanced Bond ETF and iShares Edge High Yield Defensive Bond ETF will track indexes BlackRock built.

ETFs are a basket of stocks, bonds or other assets. They often track an index, rather than trying to beat the market.

More fund providers are designing their own indexes to outperform the market. HYDB is a high-yield fund but is designed to avoid bonds most likely to go bust. IGEB attempts to pay higher yields than the broader high-grade bond market.

Stock and bondpicking managers have also been building new ETFs to recoup business they are losing to plain-vanilla index funds. By building its own indexes BlackRock can retain fees it would pay an index provider, such as Bloomberg LP, Markit Group Ltd or JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“Brand names on indexes matter less and less every year,” said Dave Nadig, CEO of

BlackRock is cutting prices on the $10 billion iShares MBS ETF to $9 a year for every $10,000 an investor holds, from $27. The price cut could cost BlackRock $18.3 million in annual revenue, Reuters estimates.

Small said the markdown allows BlackRock to capture business from asset managers, insurers, corporations, sovereign wealth funds and central banks who would otherwise trade individual mortgage securities. The U.S. Federal Reserve could start trimming its $4.5 trillion in debt holdings this year, sparking more transactions as debt prices fall.

ETF shares trade on exchanges, like stocks, and can be easier to buy than bonds sold “over the counter” by a dealer.

The iShares MBS fund still charges higher fees than the Vanguard Mortgage-Backed Securities ETF, at $7 a year per $10,000 managed. Small said the iShares fund leads its market and does not compete with other ETFs.

BlackRock also launched two bond ETFs that screen issuers based on environmental, social and corporate governance standards.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Andrew Hay