Investors continue to pour more more money into ETFs, even as they shift their focus away from riskier Emerging Markets and into more conservative bond ETFs. That’s the news from State Street Global Advisors, which just released its latest Snapshot report tracking ETF funds.

“The most striking thing to me, in looking at the report covering the first quarter of 2011, is that were still seeing steady growth in ETF investment, despite all the turbulence in the world and in financial markets,” says Tom Anderson, VP and head of strategy and research at State Street Global Investors.  “People don’t seem to be moving away from ETFs.”

Indeed not. Over the past four years, ETFs have consistently seen an annual inflow of $100 billion, and with the first quarter of 2011 showing an inflow of another $25 billion--$20.9 billion of that coming in March alone--this investment vehicle appears headed to make it a fifth year of such growth.

Investors are shifting their focus, however.

In 2010, the big thing was emerging markets, with large-cap ETFs actually experiencing outflows. That reversed course in 2011 with investors pulling out $5.2 billion in assets in the first quarter.  “Some of that I think was profit-taking,” says Anderson, “and some of it was, I think, fear of contagion from the volatility in the Middle East.  

Interestingly, after being shunned by investors in 2010, developed market ETFs representing countries in Europe and Japan, drew considerable investor interest, with net inflows in the first quarter of 2011 totaling almost $12 billion--an indication that investors are regaining confidence in the Euro. Anderson adds that investment in Japan seems to be picking up since the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant disaster, “probably on the theory that there will be a lot of investment there for rebuilding,” says Anderson.

The other three areas showing the biggest net inflows during the first quarter of 2011 were large-cap ETFs, up $6.9 billion, and fixed-income ETFs, up $6.4 billion, and energy ETFs, up $5.9 billion.

“The overall growth in ETF investment is still being driven by investors becoming better informed about the products,” says Anderson.  “Once institutional investors start using ETFs, they generally decide to use more, and individual investors see them as a low-cost way to access things like commodities, gold, dividend stocks and the like.”

In terms of performance, the top performing asset class among ETFs for the first quarter of 2011 was the S&P GSCI index, up 11.6%, followed by the S~&P mid-cap, up 9.4%, and S&P small cap, up 7.7%.

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