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Oct. 14, 2020, 12:57 p.m. EDT

More good news for the U.S. market: Investors are avoiding stock funds and ETFs

Fund flows are a contrarian indicator, so outflows — not inflows — are a healthy sign

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By Mark Hulbert, MarketWatch


Bloomberg News

Just 1.7% of the $128 billion of new money that investment management giant BlackRock attracted in the third quarter went into stock funds — and that’s positive for the U.S. market.

This trickle of new money into BlackRock’s /zigman2/quotes/207946232/composite BLK +1.27%  equity funds was revealed in the company’s third-quarter earnings report , released early on Oct. 13. Its significance unfortunately was lost in the focus on the headline numbers, which showed that the company’s earnings and revenue each beat the consensus analyst expectations.

Read: BlackRock’s profit climbs 22%, beats expectations

You might be surprised that more money didn’t flow into the company’s stock funds during the third quarter, since the U.S. market was so strong. For example, the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.35%  rose 7.6% between July 1 and Sept. 30, and the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.14%   rose 8.5%. The NASDAQ Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +0.99%  did even better, gaining 11.0%. Wouldn’t a market this strong attract a huge inflow of new cash into stocks?

Surprisingly, no. Since fund flows are a contrarian indicator, outflows — not inflows — are a sign of a healthy market.

Consider the bond market. As you can see from the chart below, 76% of the inflows to BlackRock’s offerings during the third quarter went into the company’s fixed income and cash-management categories.

To be sure, BlackRock is not the entire market, though with $7.4 trillion in assets under management it represents a big chunk. To get a more comprehensive picture of the flow data, I turned to Trimtabs, part of EPFR (a division of Informa Financial Intelligence.) In the third quarter, according to the firm, some $30 billion flowed out of U.S. equity funds (both open-end mutual funds as well as ETFs).

The chart below plots the TrimTabs data by calendar year going back a decade, with the 2020 data reflecting an annualized total based on data through early October. Notice that this year is the sixth in a row in which there have been net outflows from U.S. equity mutual funds and ETFs.

It’s not the case that fund outflows don’t depress the market. But researchers have found that this negative impact lasts only for a short time, and that this short-term effect is reversed over the subsequent several months. (I discussed this research at some length in a column this past June.)

This research helps to explain why TrimTabs interprets the fund flow data in a contrarian way. It maintains a model portfolio that trades according to changes in the fund flow data, and it currently is 100% invested in equities.

Mark Hulbert is a regular contributor to MarketWatch. His Hulbert Ratings tracks investment newsletters that pay a flat fee to be audited. He can be reached at

Read: Your portfolio is not as diversified as you think, unless you are utilizing this powerful strategy

More: The stock market’s strength tells us less about the true state of the economy than at almost any other time over the last five decades

/zigman2/quotes/207946232/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 712.10
+8.94 +1.27%
Volume: 583,346
Feb. 24, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
22.33
Dividend Yield
2.32%
Market Cap
$107.24 billion
Rev. per Employee
N/A
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/zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime
US : Dow Jones Global
31,961.86
+424.51 +1.35%
Volume: 413.35M
Feb. 24, 2021 5:20p
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
3,925.43
+44.06 +1.14%
Volume: 2.78B
Feb. 24, 2021 5:20p
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
13,597.97
+132.77 +0.99%
Volume: 5.05M
Feb. 24, 2021 5:16p
loading...

Mark Hulbert is a columnist for MarketWatch. His Hulbert Ratings service tracks investment newsletters that pay a flat fee to be audited.

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Mark Hulbert is editor of the Hulbert Financial Digest, which since 1980 has been tracking the performance of hundreds of investment advisors. The HFD...

Mark Hulbert is editor of the Hulbert Financial Digest, which since 1980 has been tracking the performance of hundreds of investment advisors. The HFD became a service of MarketWatch in April 2002. In addition to being a Senior Columnist for MarketWatch, Hulbert writes a monthly column for Barron’s.com and a column on investment strategies for the Journal of the American Association of Individual Investors. A frequent guest on television and radio shows, you may have seen Hulbert on CNBC, Wall Street Week, or ABC’s World News This Morning. Most recently, Dow Jones and MarketWatch launched a new weekly newsletter based on Hulbert's research, entitled Hulbert on Markets: What’s Working Now.

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