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Coronavirus: Will ETFs go from liquidity zero to hero and back again in market volatility?

UPDATED March 20: Corporate bond market volatility returned with a vengeance in early March as the coronavirus struck. Will the growth in ETFs, together with advances in portfolio trading, mean the market is better able to cope with crisis than before?


Illustration: David Mannion

First published March 11, updated March 20

March 6 was the worst day in the US credit market for more than 10 years. For those who were there when Lehman Brothers failed, the scale of the panic had a sickeningly familiar feel to it, only this time it was being led by airlines and cruise operators rather than banks and other mortgage providers.

Recent events also bear comparison with 2015, when oil-price volatility hit the high-yield credit market, and the disruption in the fourth quarter of 2018. By then things were different, however, thanks to the emergence of bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and the early signalling that these funds often provided on broader market behaviour.

This has also held true in the lead up to the latest sell off.

Time and time again when you have market volatility, ETFs have proved themselves - Brett Olson, BlackRock

During the first week of March, investors pulled $6.8

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