The "Smart Money" Is Quietly Getting Out Of Dodge: Sells For A Sixth Straight Week As Buybacks Soar

One week ago, when looking at the latest BofA client flow trend monitor, we noticed something strange: despite the S&P's surge higher due to either a record short squeeze or because it is merely another bear market rally, the smart money was selling.

In fact, as BofA's Jill Hall calculated, the three groups that make up the so-called "smart money" basket, hedge funds, BofA's institutional clients as well its private clients, had been selling aggressively every week for the prior five. As she explained on March 1, "last week, during which the S&P 500 climbed 1.6%, BofAML clients were net sellers of US stocks for the fifth consecutive week, in the amount of $1.5bn. This was the biggest weekly outflow since mid-December." Someone clearly was very grateful for the selling opportunity that this squeeze was providing.

Well, we can now add one more week to the total: in BofA's latest note, "last week, during which the S&P 500 rallied 2.7%, BofAML clients were net sellers of US stocks for the sixth week."

She explains that "similar to the prior week, hedge funds, institutional clients, and private clients were all net sellers, though sales last week were led by private clients (vs. hedge funds the week prior). Our hedge fund clients remain the biggest net sellers of US stocks year-to-date." 

The full breakdown below:

Clients were net sellers of stocks in five of the ten sectors last week and net buyers of the remaining five, as well as ETFs. Tech and the commodity-oriented sectors of Industrials and Materials saw the largest net sales, while Financials and Utilities saw the largest net buying... All three client groups sold stocks last week, led by private clients."

 


 

So, like last week, we again know who is selling but what about the other side: was it just shorts covering who are providing the bid? The answer is no: "buybacks by corporate clients accelerated last week to their highest level since August, and are tracking above levels we saw this time last year, though below levels we observed in 2014 (see chart below). Clients sold both large and small caps last week, but continued to buy mid-caps—which have seen the most persistent buying by our clients over the last several years despite being crowded and expensive."

 

In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense: with the debt market for all but the moost pristine issuers jammed up, corporations who have relied on debt-funded buybacks to push their price higher have had to step on the accelerator in their buyback activity, to give the impression that the market is back to stable, which in turn could thaw the frozen debt market, allowing them to issue even more debt, whose proceeds they would then use to buy back even more stock. Indeed, the lower the market dropped, the greater the buyback activity had to be to offset the natural selling by the smart money.

This is what we said one week ago:

In other words, buybacks are on pace to surpass buyback records, and since the debt issuance pipeline has to be unclogged or else risk the failure of hundreds of billions in bond bond refinancings in the coming months not to mention the collapse of the bond-buyback pathway, companies have scrambled to put a "risk on" mood on the market by repurchasing their stock, so that these same companies can issue more debt, so that they can buyback even more debt in the future.

Since then absolutely nothing has changed, and here we are now: 6 weeks of consecutive derisking and selling by hedge funds, institutions and private clients soaked up by what is now a record short squeeze, as well as a near record buyback spree to mask the fact that the "smart money" is bailing.

We leave it up to readers to decide just how healthy is this "rally" if the smart money has been selling for nearly 2 months, and where the two primary buying groups are corporations themselves, and shorts squeezed into covering positions.