By Trevor Hunnicutt
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nasdaq Inc <NDAQ.O> was removed earlier this year from its role supporting a $1.1 billion cyber security exchange-traded fund (ETF), partly over concerns about their management of the fund's index, the ETF's management company told Reuters.
The comments presage a fight over what Nasdaq described as $300,000 profit generated each month by the ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF <HACK.P>, a one-time collaboration between a group now owned by Nasdaq, PureShares LLC and ETF Managers Group LLC (ETFMG).
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Nasdaq on Thursday sued ETFMG, run by Samuel Masucci, saying it stole the ETF and several others. PureShares also sued ETFMG in May. ETFMG has called both lawsuits frivolous.
Launched in 2014, HACK was among a relatively small group of ETFs that found success despite lacking the support of asset managers like BlackRock Inc <BLK.N> and Vanguard Group, a handful of which attract the majority of ETF assets.
Smaller companies with ideas for new ETFs can take them to "white-label" providers like Summit, New Jersey-based ETFMG, who help get those products up and running.
The dispute over HACK is revealing the intensity of the steeplechase for a rare blockbuster ETF idea as more investors have flocked to lower-cost index funds. PureShares has said verdicts on the lawsuits could change the way ETF managers do business.
In an interview, Masucci said Nasdaq was failing to actively research and update the index of mostly technology stocks the fund tracked before being removed as index provider this summer. He said that may have caused the fund to lag a rival product, First Trust NASDAQ Cybersecurity ETF <CIBR.O>, that tracks a different Nasdaq index.
"They were not managing the index as the methodology said they would," said Masucci. "I don't think they were doing research on it."
Nasdaq declined to comment, but said in its complaint that Masucci and ETFMG concocted frivolous reasons to take control of HACK and other ETFs. Nasdaq also said it spent "millions" of dollars between 2012 and 2017 to support the fund and honored its obligations.
HACK delivered a 14.5 percent total return for the year ended July 31, when the Nasdaq index was replaced, short of the 16.9 percent return of CIBR. HACK has continued to lag CIBR in the nearly three months since Nasdaq was removed, though Masucci said it holds stocks that are more "liquid," easier to buy and sell.
Masucci said Nasdaq also pushed back against plans to cut the fund's fees, a move that could help the fund perform better. The fund's management fees were lowered to $60 for every $10,000 under management, from $75, on May 1.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by David Gregorio)