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March 25, 2016

Despite the Mid-Week Attack in Belgium, Investors Are Net Purchasers of Risk-On Assets

by Tom Roseen.

Soaring commodity prices, a weakening dollar, and dovish Federal Reserve comments helped push the Dow Jones Industrial Average into positive territory for the first time this year. The energy, materials, and industrials sectors got a boost early in the flows week after crude oil futures rose above $40/barrel for the first time since December 3, 2015. The major indices continued to rally after the Fed’s decision to leave interest rates unchanged and reducing the number of slated increases from four to two for 2016. On Friday, March 18, on the heels of a strong run-up in healthcare and financial stocks, the Dow and S&P 500 booked their longest winning streaks since early October, staying on the plus side for the fifth consecutive week. Investors appeared to have been cheered by the Fed’s positive outlook on interest rate hikes at a slower pace. M&A news in the middle of the flows week overshadowed a disappointing existing-home sales report for February.

However, the Dow snapped its seven-session winning streak when investors learned of the deadly terrorist attacks in Belgium that left 34 dead and numerous injured. Safe-haven plays such as U.S. Treasuries and gold rallied on Tuesday as the news unnerved global equity markets. Financial stocks took the brunt of the decline as investors also began to reevaluate the impact negative interest rates will have on banks’ earnings. Crude oil prices dropped below $40/barrel, closing the flows week out at $39.79, after weekly oil supplies jumped by 9.4 million barrels, weighing heavily on the markets and erasing the S&P 500’s year-to-date plus-side return. For the flows week ended March 23, 2016, the year-to-date return for the S&P 500 Composite Price Only Index was minus 0.35%. Most pundits don’t expect a lot of movement in the last day of trading of this Easter holiday-shortened week.

For the week fund investors were net redeemers of fund assets (including those of conventional funds and exchange-traded funds [ETFs]), pulling out a net $10.0 billion for the fund-flows week ended March 23. However, the headline number was misleading. Investors padded the coffers of taxable bond funds (+$5.9 billion), equity funds (+$2.0 billion), and municipal bond funds (+$0.9 billion), while being net redeemers of money market funds (-$18.7 billion).

For the fourth week in a row equity ETFs witnessed net inflows, taking in $3.5 billion. 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 (+$0.6 billion), injecting money into the group for the fourth consecutive week. Despite global markets’ concerns about the attacks in Belgium and perhaps as a result of Chinese authorities considering loosening margin-trading requirements, APs—for the second week in three—were also net purchasers of nondomestic equity ETFs (+$2.9 billion). APs bid up some out-of-favor names, with iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (+$2.8 billion), iShares Russell 2000 ETF (+$1.2 billion), and SPDR Gold Trust (+$1.0 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 (-$1.1 billion) experienced the largest net redemptions, while PowerShares QQQ Trust 1 (-$0.8 billion) suffered the second largest redemptions for the week.

For the second week running conventional fund (ex-ETF) investors were net redeemers of equity funds, redeeming $1.5 billion from the group. Domestic equity funds, handing back $2.2 billion, witnessed their seventh consecutive week of net outflows, while posting a weekly gain of 0.28%. Meanwhile, their nondomestic equity fund counterparts, posting a 0.24% return for the week, witnessed net inflows (although just +$668 million) for the seventh week in eight. On the domestic side investors lightened up on large-cap funds and mid-cap funds, redeeming a net $2.0 billion and $135 million, respectively. On the nondomestic side international equity funds witnessed $222 million of net outflows, while global equity funds took in some $890 million net.

For the fifth week in a row bond funds (ex-ETFs) witnessed net inflows, taking in a little under $2.8 billion. Balanced funds witnessed the largest net inflows, taking in $1.1 billion (for their fourth week of net inflows in five), while corporate high-yield funds witnessed the second largest net inflows (+$0.6 billion). Despite the late-week flight to safety, government-Treasury funds witnessed the only net redemptions of the group, handing back $124 million for the week. For the twenty-fifth week in a row municipal bond funds (ex-ETFs) witnessed net inflows, taking in $0.8 billion this past week.

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

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