Schwab Cuts Fees on Five ETFs as Industry’s Price War Heats Up

  • Move by Schwab follows BlackRock’s cost reduction two days ago
  • Investors added more than $160 billion to U.S. ETFs this year

Charles Schwab Corp. cut prices on five of its exchange-traded funds, just two days after BlackRock Inc. intensified the price war in the industry by reducing expenses on 15 of its funds.

San Francisco-based Schwab, which has become the fifth largest U.S. ETF provider by selling low-cost, plain vanilla funds, said in a statement Friday that prices on the five products would range from 4 cents to 13 cents per $100 invested. The cut on each of the four stock funds and one bond fund was one cent per $100.

Asset managers, including Vanguard Group and Fidelity Investments, are engaged in a race to the bottom to attract money to the fast-growing U.S. ETF market, which drew $162 billion in investor cash this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Investors continue to pull money from actively-managed mutual funds, which have struggled to beat their index benchmarks. Most ETFs mimic indexes.

“While the fee war is brutal for the issuers, it is a huge win for regular investors who are now able to get an institutional-quality portfolio for under 10 basis points,” said Eric Balchunas, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

BlackRock, the world’s largest provider of ETFs, said on Wednesday that it was reducing expense ratios on 15 stock and bond iShares funds aimed at buy-and-hold investors. The charge for the $80 billion iShares Core S&P 500 ETF, for example, was dropped to 4 basis points from 7.

Schwab, which offers 21 ETFs, uses them in its robo-adviser platform and its target-date retirement funds. The firm has cut its ETF prices in the past to keep pace with moves by rivals.

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