ETF And Conventional Fund Investors Take Two Distinct Paths

Investors were net redeemers of mutual fund and ETF assets for the Refinitiv Lipper fund-flows week ended Wednesday, May 18, 2022, collectively handing back a net $30.9 billion—including a $20.6-billion outflow from money market funds.

They were net redeemers of taxable bond funds (-$4.4 billion), equity funds (-$3.2 billion), and tax-exempt fixed income funds (-$2.7 billion) for the week.

However, as has been the case, two distinct paths were taken this week: one for conventional funds and another for ETFs. On the conventional fund side, investors pulled money out of taxable bond funds to the tune of $10.4 billion, $8.5 billion from equity mutual funds, and $3.4 billion from municipal bond funds.

In contrast, we saw net inflows into taxable bond ETFs (+$6.0 billion), equity ETFs (+$5.4 billion), and tax-exempt fixed income ETFs (+$646 million).

Despite the (-3.6%) posting its worst one-day decline since June 11, 2020, on the last trading day of the fund-flows week, the broad-based indices ended mixed for the week as some investors bought the dip but continued to weigh the threat of a global economic slowdown, poor Q1 earnings reports from key retailers, and concern over the Federal Reserve’s ability to get inflation under control without causing a recession.

Adding to the volatility for the fund-flows week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen cautioned that fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine could lead to global stagflation, and poor Q1 earnings reports from (NYSE:) and (NYSE:) capped upside performance as investors evaluated the impact inflation might have on the average American shopper.

Nonetheless, the average equity fund managed to chalk up a plus-side return for the week, rising 1.04%, while the average taxable and tax-exempt fixed income funds suffered losses of 0.17% and 1.07%, respectively.

For the flows week, the finished down three basis points (bps) and closed out the week at 2.89% after hitting a closing high of 2.98% on May 17, with the – and 10-year Treasury yield narrowing four bps for the flows week to 21 bps.

Year-to-date, taxable bond funds are down 8.12%, while their tax-exempt cohorts are down 9.95%. Both asset classes have seen near-record outflows so far this year, with taxable bond funds (including ETFs) handing back $50.5 billion—their largest net redemption thus far of any full year dating back to 2015.

Tax-exempt bond funds (including ETFs) experienced net outflows of $57.0 billion YTD, suffering their 14th consecutive week of net outflows and witnessing the largest net redemption thus far of any full year dating back to 2013.

For the fund-flows week, ETF investors turned toward safety and earnings consistency, padding the coffers of large-cap ETFs (+$7.0 billion), Short U.S. Treasury ETFs (+$4.2 billion), General U.S. Treasury ETFs (+$2.2 billion), Equity Income ETFs (+$1.8 billion), and Corporate Debt BBB-Rated ETFs (+$1.2 billion), while being net redeemers of the commodities heavy sector-others ETFs (-$2.6 billion) macro-group and sector-financial/banking ETFs (-$1.3 billion), highlighting only the largest movers.

Focusing on tax-exempt ETFs, despite the poor performance and perhaps looking at the related rising yields, ETF investors were net purchasers of the municipal bond funds macro-group, injecting a net $646 million.

On the conventional funds side for the fund-flows week, investors turned a cold shoulder to corporate investment-grade debt funds (-$5.4 billion), municipal debt funds (-$3.4 billion), small-cap funds (-$1.9 billion), corporate high-yield debt funds (-$1.8 billion), and large-cap funds (-$1.4 billion), while being net purchasers of equity income funds (+$136 million) and sector-other funds (+$47 million).

The municipal bond funds group (ex-ETFs) posted a 1.13% loss on average during the flows week and witnessed its nineteenth consecutive weekly net outflows, marking its longest stretch of weekly net outflows since the week ended Jan. 8, 2014.

General & Insured Municipal Debt Funds (-$1.3 billion) and High Yield Municipal Debt Funds (-$793 million) experienced the largest net outflows of the group.

While the average equity fund is down a disappointing 15.62% year-to-date, many investors are struggling with the large year-to-date losses seen on the fixed income side of the equation (taxable bond funds -8.12% and tax-exempt bond funds -9.95%)—losses that large have not been seen since 1974 (-8.58%, full year) for taxable bond funds and 1980 (-11.10%, full year) for tax-exempt bond funds.

As a result, all eyes will be on the of the next rate hike, used to stave off , and the central bank’s ability to engineer a soft landing without putting the U.S. economy into a tailspin or creating a recession.

However, during the flows week, Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell warned that the Fed’s ability to tighten monetary policy without sending the U.S. economy into a downturn wasn’t solely up to policymakers, but “may actually depend on factors that we don’t control.”

Former Fed Chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen both warned this week that the economy could be headed into a period of stagflation for the first time since the 1970s.

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