Another paradoxical observation emerges when combing through the latest Bank of America data.
First, as discussed earlier today, while a net 48% of surveyed fund managers had an allocation to equities in March, the highest in two years, this flood into stocks has taken place even as the highest number of respondents since 2000 admitted stocks were overvalued.
That was one part.
The other part is that while fund managers respond that they are loading up on stocks, what they are doing is very different, and as BofA's Jill Hall reported overnight, the bank's clients sold stocks for the fifth consecutive week led entirely by institutional clients.
According to the report, last week, during which the S&P 500 climbed 0.2% (but remained below its early-March highs), BofA clients were net sellers of US equities for the fifth consecutive week, in the amount of $891MM. ETFs continued to see muted inflows, while single stocks saw outflows. There was one smallchange: unlike the previous four weeks, when sales had been broad-based across client groups, net sales last week were entirely due to institutional clients, while private clients and hedge funds were net buyers for the first time in five and seven weeks, respectively. These two groups had been the chief buyers of equities post-election prior to the recent selling streak. In other words, while previously the great rotation was out of institutions and hedge funds to "animal spirited" rich retail investors, last week hedge funds joined the buy parade, perhaps pressured by a need to catch up to their benchmark at quarter-end, and buy any overvalued garbage they could find.
- Clients were net sellers across all three size segments last week. Buybacks by corporate clients slowed from the prior week's levels, and year-to-date continue to track their lowest of any comparable period since 2013.
- Biggest buying of Health Care stocks in over a year
- Clients sold stocks in eight of the eleven sectors last week, led by Consumer Discretionary and Industrials (which have both seen net sales for the last five weeks). Real Estate-the worst-performing sector in March-continues to have the longest selling streak (for seven consecutive weeks).
- And amid the Fed rate hike last week, Utilities saw their biggest sales in three months. Health Care stocks saw the largest net buying, with the biggest inflows since last January and the first positive flows in six weeks, driven by institutional clients. This sector saw the greatest outflows of any sector in 2016 and has seen the second-largest outflows (after Discretionary) year-to-date.
- Bearish sentiment, light positioning and attractive valuations are several reasons we are positive on Health Care stocks, where we see political risks as overly discounted. Other sectors which saw inflows last week were Materials and Telecom, where flows into Materials were the largest since last February.
Other notable flows: Broad-based sales of Disc. & bond proxies
- Hedge funds, private clients and institutional clients alike were net sellers of Consumer Discretionary stocks last week-which typically underperform during tightening cycles-along with stocks in the bond-proxy sectors of Utilities and Real Estate. No sector saw net buying by all three groups.
- Hedge funds' net buying last week was spread across five cyclical sectors, while private clients' net buying was entirely in ETFs and Financials stocks last week.
- Pension fund clients were net sellers of US stocks for the second straight week, led by sales of ETFs and Real Estate stocks. Their biggest purchases last week were of Energy stocks. For more details, see Pension fund flows.
Finally, here is the breakdown of institutional, HF and retail client flow prior to US election through present. What it clearly shows is that the whole rally has been one "great rotation" from selling institutional investors to buying "animal spirited" retail traders.
And when institutions sell enough, the bottom from the market is pulled, retail panics to sell as the S&P tumbled, institutions reload, and the whole cycle repeats.