a stunning development, the fund’s advisor, ETF Management Group, had rebranded the entire family of PureFunds ETFs with the ETFMG name, and began following indexes from a new firm called Prime Indexes.
Since the change, $36 million has flowed out of HACK, which has $1.1 billion in assets, according to Morningstar Inc. The outflow has coincided with a pullback in cybersecurity stocks and the ETFs that invest in them.
While HACK’s old and new indexes both track the same securities, there were some slight changes in the new index to conform with a new methodology and improve implied liquidity, said Sam Masucci, chief executive of ETF Management Group. The change had little effect on the share price.
The story highlights the issues small asset managers without infrastructure can run into. ETF MG is known as the advisor. It provides the infrastructure for operating the ETF and portfolio management, as well as manages the third-party relationships with outsourced services, such as custodians, legal and auditing. ETF MG has 13 funds on the market.
PureFunds was the sponsor, covering most of the costs. Typically, the sponsor’s role is branding, marketing and consumer education. ETF MG is now the sponsor.
Unlike the ETFs of most small asset managers, when HACK launched in 2014 it was an immediate hit. It quickly gathered $1 billion in assets. Andrew Chanin, Pure Funds’ chief executive, was lauded as an ETF wunderkind. Altogether, PureFunds launched eight funds with ETF MG, six of which will continue under the ETF MG name. The other two were closed in July.
“People come to us with ideas that we turn into ETFs and operate. We are a comprehensive service company,” said Masucci. “Their role is market education. With more than a dozen partners, we’ve only had one that went this direction.”
Masucci said the dispute started in April when the board voted to lower the fund’s expense ratio to 0.6% from 0.75% in order to better compete with First Trust Nasdaq Cybersecurity ETF (CIBR), which charges 0.6%. At the point, HACK had $950 million in assets, while CIBR had $218 million.
“I alerted Andrew, and the Nasdaq and Andrew sued us,” said Masucci. “When Andrew sued us he violated provisions in our agreement precluding him from taking any actions that interfered with the operation of the fund. We would have not terminated them if they had not sued us.”
Masucci also said that Chanin did not originate the idea for the fund. He said that came from Kris Monaco and his team at ETF Ventures, a division of ISE, which was later acquired by Nasdaq. Masucci said Nasdaq disbanded the ETF Ventures team. Monaco, who was instrumental in creating the index that PureFunds ISE Cyber Security tracked, is one of the founders of Prime Indexes, which is providing the new index for the fund.
Chanin disputes the claims by ETF MG. He said PureFunds and ISE were partners and they hired ETF MG, not the other way around. And that it was PureFunds and its partners that helped cover the fund’s expenses.
In the complaint filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, PureFunds claims that ETF MG was retained to “empower” PureFunds to launch their ETFs. PureFunds alleges that ETF MG “trumped up false securities violations” with the purpose of obtaining control of the PureFunds business to pocket millions in annual revenue. It also alleges that ETF MG reduced the “profit” that PureFunds was to receive from “their ETFs.”
“The pressure on asset managers to reduce their fees is as great as it’s ever been,” said Ben Johnson, Morningstar’s director of global ETFs research. “The vast majority of flows are going into the ones with absolute rock-bottom expense ratios. That’s the trend.”
HACK has risen 10.4% this year, but is down 4.8% in the past three months. CIBR, which was launched in June 2015, is up 8.3% this year, but also down 4.8% the past three months.
CIBR now has $275.6 million in assets.
The two funds have similar top holdings. HACK’s 39 holdings as of Aug. 15 were topped by Cisco Systems at 4.75%, Palo Alto Networks at 4.49% and Symantec at 4.12%. CIBR top holdings were Palo Alto Networks at 6.87%, Cisco Systems at 6.31%, and Akamai Technologies at 6.09%.
The other funds affected by the change, with assets and expense ratios:
- PureFunds ISE Mobile Payments is now ETFMG Prime Mobile Payments ETF (IPAY), with $152 million in assets and an expense ratio of 0.75%.
- PureFunds ISE Junior Silver (Small Cap Miners/Explorers) is now ETFMG Prime Junior Silver ETF (SILJ), with $53.1 million and 0.69%.
- Pure Funds Video Game Tech is now ETFMG Video Game Tech ETF (GAMR), with $29.7 million, 0.75%.
- PureFunds Drone Economy Strategy is now ETFMG Drone Economy Strategy ETF (IFLY), $23.3 million, 0.75%.
- Pure Funds ETFx HealthTech is now ETFMG ETFx HealthTech ETF (IMED), $2.8 million, 0.75%
This was originally published in Investor’s Business Daily.