iShares are a family of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) managed by BlackRock. The first iShares were known as WEBS but were since rebranded.
Each iShares fund tracks a bond or stock market index. The following stock exchanges list iShares funds: London Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange, New York Stock Exchange, BATS Exchange, Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Toronto Stock Exchange, Australian Securities Exchange and several European and Asian stock exchanges. iShares is the largest issuer of ETFs in the US and globally.
In 1993, State Street, in cooperation with American Stock Exchange, had launched Standard & Poor's Depositary Receipts (NYSE Arca: SPY) (now the 'SPDR S&P 500'), which were traded in real time and tracked the S&P 500 index. This was the first ETF to trade in the United States, and it continues to trade to this day.
In response, Morgan Stanley launched a series of ETFs called WEBS that tracked its MSCI foreign stock market indices. WEBS, an acronym for World Equity Benchmark Shares, were developed in cooperation with Barclays Global Investors, the fund manager. Unlike the SPDR fund that was a unit investment trust, the underlying vehicle of the WEBS were mutual funds.
In 2000, Barclays put a significant strategic effort behind growing the ETF market, and launched over 40 new funds with an extensive education and marketing effort behind them, branding them iShares. The effort was led by Lee Kranefuss, who worked closely with the inventor of the ETF, Nate Most, who was by that time Chairman of the WEBs Board and an adviser to Barclays on the iShares effort. (Most had retired from the American Stock Exchange some years earlier and settled in California). WEBS were soon renamed the iShares MSCI Series as part of that program.
On 7 November 2006, iShares announced the purchase of the INDEXCHANGE ETF unit of HypoVereinsbank for €240 million. This solidified the iShares position in Europe as the leading ETF provider.
Barclays added currency hedging features to the Canadian iShares, to distinguish them from US products in response to the elimination of limits on foreign holdings by Canadians in an RRSP. Barclays hedges currency changes in the Canadian - US exchange rate for the S&P 500 and the MSCI EAFE.
On 16 March 2009, Barclays confirmed that it was planning to sell iShares to CVC Capital Partners, a private equity firm that had agreed to pay more than $4 billion. However, under a 45-day "go shop" clause, a later bid by BlackRock was announced on 11 June 2009 for the whole of the parent division Barclays Global Investors including iShares, in a mixed cash-stock deal worth around US$13.5 billion (37.8 million shares of common stock and US$6.6 billion in cash).
iShares has increased the number of its "iShares Core" funds.