09.18.2018
By John D'Antona

ETF Inflows Up Across the Board

While the summer has faded into a distant memory, the usage of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) is still forefront on investors’ minds.

Risk-on sentiment continues to thrive, evidenced by the $19.7 billion in fresh inflows funneled into US-listed equity ETFs in August. And while equity inflows were quite healthy, the bull market’s maturity along with lingering geopolitical uncertainty has caused investors to actively hedge their market bets and plow $6.7 billion into fixed-income ETFs. Fixed income-backed flows have now hit their 37th consecutive month of inflows gains, according to Matthew Bartolini, Head of SPDR Americas Research at SSGA and his most recent US ETF Flash Flows report.

Matthew Bartolini, SSGA

From a macro view, Bartolini told Traders Magazine that investors favored the U.S. over any other region, as nearly 80% of all equity inflows were into domestic-oriented funds. This came as the U.S. in September marked the 10th anniversary of the Great Financial Crisis – where over the last decade ETFs have expanded from $600 billion in 2008 to more than $3.6 trillion in assets now. Fixed income ETFs have taken in $580 billion, a whopping 1,140% increase over 2008 assets.

“Investors are on the offensive as we head into September, but it’s an offense that keeps going to the hot hand,” Bartolini began, using North American football terminology and analogies. “Similar to that player who always runs the same plays in Madden, investors have decidedly favored certain regions and sectors over others, creating a market with narrow leadership.”

On a regional basis, he added the US continues to be the “quick slant” play call, outperforming developed and emerging markets by 5.5% and 6.2% in August, respectively.

“These sizeable gains have pushed both regions’ outperformance into the double digits on the year. This makes sense,” Bartolini said. “A stronger US dollar, protectionist trade policies and a Cleveland Browns-like handling of the Brexit negotiations have forced investors to side step developed ex-US and emerging markets like Bo Jackson juking a defender in the open field.”

On the sector level, Technology, Health Care and Consumer Discretionary ETFs led with inflows of $3.9 billion, $2.2 billion and $939 million, respectively. The three sectors also accounted for 94% of the entire S&P 500’s return in the month of August.

In looking further past equities and offensive investment strategies, Bartolini noted other investors are either playing defense or looking like they will. Hence, the interest in fixed-income ETFs. Fixed-income ETF flows have been dominated by interest rate sensitive and defensive-oriented segments like Aggregate and Government exposures in 2018. This trend continued last month, he added, with inflows to those two segments equaling more than 50% of all bond ETF fund flows. The interest in those two sectors has supported the broader bond bucket’s run of 37 consecutive months of inflows.

“The need to decipher if the tweet of the moment is rhetoric or real action has forced investors to call an audible after getting up to the line a few times this year,” Bartolini said. “Rather than going back to the hot hand, the geopolitical tensions have forced investors to yell “Omaha” periodically and look for the “check down receiver” in order to gain positive yards. This defensive phenomenon is evident when looking at the range-bound level of the US 10-year yield over the past few months, as the market has had to weather the “trade off/trade on” fog clouding the global outlook.”

Also, he added that despite growing concerns around emerging market contagion, EM ETFs attracted $1.5 billion in August as investors sought value in the discounted asset class. This, Bartolini noted, marked the largest inflow for the segment since January.

 

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