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Chart: The Rise of ETFs and Passive Investing

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Chart: The Rise of ETFs and Passive Investing

Rise of ETFs and Passive Investing

Passive investing is huge, but it’s barely made a dent on active

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

For the investing world, the meteoric rise of ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, has been a key story to follow since the 2008 crisis.

The ETF landscape has changed dramatically over that timeframe. In 2007, there were 1,181 ETFs that existed worldwide. By 2015, that number sailed to 4,396 – that’s a lot of new ETFs. Today, there is so much selection out there that you can do pretty much everything.

Want to go 2x short oil? Then try the ProShares UltraShort Bloomberg Crude Oil ETF (SCO). Want to buy into the cybersecurity boom? Try the PureFunds Cybersecurity ETF (HACK). Want to focus in on a specific geographic region such as Singapore? Don’t worry, the iShares MSCI Singapore ETF (EWS) gets you precise exposure to large and mid-sized Singaporean companies.

You get the idea.

Part of a Bigger Trend

Even though the global ETF market is estimated to be worth $7 trillion by 2021, the ETF craze is actually part of a much bigger trend towards putting money into passive funds.

Passive funds aim to “track” a specific market, by allocating dollars in equal proportion to an index. This is in contrast to active funds, which employ professional managers who try to beat the market by having more discretion in choosing which securities make up a portfolio.

The vast majority of ETFs fit in the former category, and passive investing has been on a roll since the Financial Crisis. In 2015, for example, $413.8 billion was poured into passive funds, while $207.3 billion was pulled out of U.S. mutual funds with active management.

Passive or Active?

Why have ETFs and passive investing been so popular? In general, it is because many active managers have struggled to beat the market as a whole in recent years.

However, there are some important caveats worth considering.

First, while most managers fail to beat the market, some of them do succeed. Financial planners will be the first to tell you that there are revered mutual funds out there that do often perform to the upside.

Next, passive funds have also profited off of the extreme and unprecedented actions taken by central banks. Since the crisis, central banks have experimented by pumping trillions of dollars of liquidity into the system, creating a very unusual market situation. With the cost of borrowing at record lows, valuations have become extremely distorted in the market. This careful balancing act by central banks benefits passive investors until it blows up.

Lastly, low volatility by definition means smaller price movements that active managers can capitalize on. If the volatility environment changes, passive funds may lose a level of attractiveness as there are more winners and losers at any given time.

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Charted: Stock Buybacks by the Magnificent Seven

While Apple carried out $83 billion in stock buybacks over the last four quarters, Amazon and Tesla didn’t report any.

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Nightingale chart of stock buybacks for the magnificent seven stocks showing that Apple had the most buybacks of $83 billion.

Charted: Stock Buybacks of the Magnificent Seven

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

By 2025, Goldman Sachs predicts that total U.S. stock buybacks will exceed $1 trillion. The bank sees this growth being driven by strong tech earnings growth and lower rates.

But what are buyback amounts like for the largest tech companies today?

This graphic looks at the total value of shares each Magnificent Seven company has repurchased in the last four quarters using data from their latest financial statements.

What is a Stock Buyback?

A stock buyback is when a company buys their own shares to reduce the number of available shares on the market. Companies may choose to buy back stock to return value to shareholders. Having fewer shares available improves earnings per share, and may drive up the stock price.

Buying back stocks can also come with risks, such as using up cash that would otherwise be put toward growing the business.

Stock Buybacks of Tech Titans

We gathered data from company financial statements to see how stock buyback amounts differed among the Magnificent Seven. Each total represents what companies reported from June 1, 2023 to June 1, 2024.

As we can see, the tech companies in the Magnificent Seven have been the ones buying back their stock over the past year.

CompanyTotal Stock BuybacksBuybacks as a % of Market Cap
Apple$83B2.8%
Alphabet (Google)$63B2.9%
Meta$25B2.0%
Microsoft$20B0.6%
Nvidia$17B0.6%
Amazon$0B0.0%
Tesla$0B0.0%

Values rounded to the nearest billion. Company market caps are as of June 6, 2024.

Apple had by far the most share repurchases, raising its diluted earnings per share from $1.26 to $1.53. Going forward, Apple authorized an additional $110 billion for share repurchases, a U.S. record. The board says the repurchases are in light of their “confidence in Apple’s future and the value we see in our stock.”

On the flip side, both Amazon and Tesla did not issue stock buybacks in the last four quarters. Amazon’s CFO Brian Olsavsky recently emphasized the company’s strategy of reinvesting in the business. He says Amazon is focused on reducing debt and building data centers to take advantage of AI.

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