U.S.-listed exchange-traded funds are off to a strong start, with record first-quarter inflows hitting $55.9 billion, according to just-released data from the ETF Industry Association. 

By way of contrast, first-quarter inflows for 2011 and 2010 were $28.2 trillion and $8.5 trillion, respectively.

For the month of March 2012, ETF and ETN (exchange-traded notes) net cash inflows reached approximately $13.2 billion.  The top recipient of the recent inflows was iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures ETN, which took in $856 million for the month.  The next two recipients were PowerShares QQQ and Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets, which saw inflows of $779 million and $735 million, respectively. 

Assets in U.S.-listed ETFs and ETNs totaled approximately $1.21 trillion at the end of March, up 12% from March 2011, when assets totaled $1.08 trillion. The bulk of the assets (73%) were held in equity- and REIT-based ETFs, which totaled $882 million, according to the data.

The ETF Industry Association tallied 1,446 U.S. listed products at the end of March, a 23% increase from the 1,173 products listed at the same time last year. 

Margarida Correia writes for Bank Investment Consultant.