Massive Block Trades Recorded in ETFs Before Stocks Plunged

Updated on

Almost $4 billion in block trades of exchange-traded funds were recorded Tuesday, encompassing strategies from sector funds to popular international bets, according to Josh Lukeman, head of ETF market making for the Americas at Credit Suisse Group AG.

The largest trade in the iShares Core MSCI EAFE ETF, ticker IEFA, was a $262.6 million block that amounted to almost 48 percent of the average daily turnover in the fund over the past 90 days, according to an analysis of Bloomberg data. The figures are from intraday prints. IEFA traded about $3.9 billion in value on Tuesday, the most since Jan. 30.

“The majority looks to be a transition out of country-tracking components and into IEFA, maybe to save money on fees,” Lukeman said.

It’s not a shock to see heaps of cash going into IEFA since it’s now absorbing about triple the volume it did two years ago, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Eric Balchunas. Institutions making this move could be saving between $5 billion and $10 billion in fees, he said.

“They’re making the move now because this fund is showing big-boy liquidity,” Balchunas said. “It would be harder to find a hotter ETF.” 

U.S. sector ETFs also saw a lot of activity Tuesday. Lukeman said that could be the result of one large holder executing a cost rotation transition with sector strategies.

In addition, an almost $900 million block trade was posted for the Vanguard Information Technology ETF, ticker VGT. That’s almost 7.5 times the average daily turnover for the fund over the past 90 days, the data show.

The big bets came ahead of news after the close Tuesday that Gary Cohn, economic adviser to President Donald Trump, had resigned. U.S. equity futures slumped as Cohn’s departure removes a free-trade advocate from the White House.

— With assistance by Tom Lagerman

(Adds total value traded for IEFA on Tuesday in second paragraph.)
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