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March 3, 2016

Despite an Uptick in Equities, Fund Investors Remain Risk Averse

by Tom Roseen.

Generally ignoring mixed economic news, equity investors continued to follow the lead of oil prices throughout the fund-flows week ended March 2, 2016. On Thursday, February 25, markets rallied, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average posting a 212-point gain after investors learned that Venezuela’s oil minister had said he was meeting next month with other oil ministers, with a goal of stabilizing oil prices. Technology and financial issues led the rally as investors took a risk-on approach, helped by news of a jump in durable goods orders; investors ignored the details that shipments of nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft were negative and that the Shanghai Composite dropped 6.4% for the day. Throughout the flows week investors cheered the comments of St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard, who reiterated that the pressure to raise interest rates has eased. Preliminary Q4 2015 GDP growth was revised upward during the week to 1.0%, which helped offset a dip in oil prices on Friday. Despite better-than-expected earnings reports from the likes of J.C. Penney and Kraft Heinz, investors continued to bid up gold.

On Monday, February 29, investors continued to push up utilities issues and gold prices, underscoring the markets’ continued volatility. Nonetheless, oil futures rose sharply on reports of a possible production freeze, and investors’ global economic fears declined slightly after China lowered its reserve-requirement for that nation’s banks. On Tuesday stocks rallied, with investors bidding up financial and technology stocks on news that oil prices had jumped higher and that the ISM Manufacturing Index rose to 49.5% for February; while still in contraction territory, that beat consensus estimates. The NASDSAQ Composite witnessed its largest one-day gain since August 2015 as utilities and Treasuries took a breather.

Another strong gain in oil prices on Wednesday pushed stocks into the black once again. Investors met the “Goldilocks” news from the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book with a sigh of relief; it hinted that the central bank might be slow to raise interest rates this year, while showing the economy is still growing. This rally pushed the ten-year Treasury yield to its strongest closing high since February 5.

Despite the risk-on attitude by many investors this past week, risk aversion remained the mantra of fund investors. For the week fund investors were net purchasers of fund assets (including those of conventional funds and exchange-traded funds [ETFs]), injecting a net $6.4 billion for the fund-flows week ended March 2. The increase in recent market volatility pushed investors toward safe-haven plays and fixed income securities, padding the coffers of money market funds (+$5.7 billion net), taxable bond funds (+$2.9 billion net), and municipal bond funds (+$0.2 billion net), while being net redeemers of equity funds (-$2.4 billion).

For the first week in five equity ETFs witnessed net inflows; however, this past week they took in just $450 million. As a result of rises in oil prices and good economic news during the week, authorized participants (APs) were net purchasers of domestic equity ETFs (+$1.5 billion), injecting money into the group for the first week in three. Despite a slight improvement in the global markets, APs—for the fifth consecutive week—were net redeemers of nondomestic equity ETFs (-$1.0 billion). Perhaps as a result of persistent risk aversion, accompanied by the rally in technology firms, APs bid up some unlikely names, with SPDR Gold Trust (+$1.1 billion), PowerShares QQQ Trust 1 (+$0.6 billion), and iShares U.S. Real Estate ETF (+$0.3 billion) attracting the largest amounts of net new money of all individual equity ETFs. At the other end of the spectrum SPDR S&P 500 ETF (-$1.2 billion) experienced the largest net redemptions, while iShares MSCI Japan ETF (-$362 million) suffered the second largest redemptions for the week.

For the third week in four conventional fund (ex-ETF) investors were net redeemers of equity funds, redeeming $2.8 billion from the group. Domestic equity funds, handing back $2.9 billion, witnessed their fourth consecutive week of net outflows, while posting a weekly gain of 3.32%. Meanwhile, their nondomestic equity fund counterparts, posting a 3.69% return for the week, witnessed net inflows (although just +$87 million) for the fifth consecutive week. On the domestic side investors lightened up on large-cap funds and equity income funds, redeeming a net $1.6 billion and $1.0 billion, respectively. On the nondomestic side international equity funds witnessed $362 million of net inflows, while global equity funds handed back some $274 million net.

For the third week in four taxable bond funds (ex-ETFs) witnessed net inflows, taking in a little under $2.0 billion. High-yield funds witnessed the largest net inflows, taking in $2.6 billion (for their second consecutive week of net inflows), while government-mortgage funds witnessed the second largest net inflows (+$0.4 billion). Corporate investment-grade debt funds witnessed the largest net redemptions from the group, handing back $754 million for the week. For the twenty-second week in a row municipal bond funds (ex-ETFs) witnessed net inflows, taking in $125 million this past week.

For more information on this week’s Lipper fund flows data, please visit here.

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