BofA Sounds The Alarm: "Biggest Sell Signal In 5 Years Was Just Triggered"

One week ago, Bank of America's Michael Hartnett showed  that as a result of the ongoing stock market euphoria, the 4-week inflow into stocks had hit the highest ever, although he suggested that we were "not quite there" yet when it comes to euphoria becoming a "selling" trigger.

So fast forward one week, when according to BofA's latest weekly flow show, we finally made one-week history as investors poured the most money on record into equity funds, and warning that with the Bull & Bear indicator surging to 7.9 "the highest since last sell signal >8 triggered Mar’13", a tactical pullback in sky-high markets in February and March is now "very likely".

Overall, as part of what Hartnett calls a "non-stop euphoria cabaret" markets saw a record $33.2bn inflow to equity funds this week, record $12.2bn inflow to active funds, $1.5bn into gold (50-week high), as well as record inflows to tech & TIPS.

And while we all know how overbought the market is, here are two stunning statistics:

  • 98% of global equity markets trading above 50 & 200 day moving averages
  • AUM of SPY ETF now = GDP of Denmark.

Some further details on the historic inflows by region and product:

  • broken by region, it was more of the same as U.S. equities saw $7bn of inflows, Europe $4.6bn, Japan $3.4bn; while EM funds had the 2nd best week of inflows on record at $8.1bn.
  • On the credit IG bond funds gain $2b in 57th straight week of inflows, HY bond funds see outflows of $2.5b, EM debt inflows $1.6b

And while the rotation from debt to equity has not yet happened, a subset of debt - junk bonds - is clearly throwing in the towel, as shown in the chart below, which shows that equity flows relative to credit flows at all-time high (Chart 1 – HY redemptions 11/13 past weeks & slowing IG inflows); here Hartnett reminds us that "credit leads equities (except in bubbles)."

Looking at FX flows, BofA writes that as a result of the "tainted dollar", EM debt & equity inflows close to May’13 peak, which helps explain recent surge in EM currencies:


A little more euphoria and it will be time to sell emerging markets: "EM Equity Flow Trading Rule…$5bn into EM equities next week triggers 1st sell signal since Aug’14"

So going back to the BofA "sell signal" that was just triggered, Hartnett explains that the BofAML Bull & Bear indicator just surged to 7.9, highest since last sell signal >8 triggered Mar’13.

From here, inflows into HY/EM debt/equity funds would flip “soft sell” for risk assets to “hard sell”.

Euphoria charted: BofAML GWIM private client equity exposure rising at fastest pace in 10 years...

... and cash allocation at record low (10%).

Should one trust the BofA Bull and Bear indicator? Well, yes: "BofAML Bull & Bear indicator has given 11 sell signals since 2002; hit ratio = 11/11; "

What happens next? Well, once hit, the average equity peak-to-trough drop following 3 months = 12% (backtested, Table 1); note the last Bull & Bear indicator flashed was a buy signal of 0 on Feb 11th 2016.

Putting it all together, BofA warns that a "tactical S&P500 pullback to 2686 in Feb/Mar now very likely."

And here is what can spark it:

"The Art of Falling Apart: US dollar key catalyst; note US-Europe FX spat sparked ’87 crash; higher US$ “pain trade” = risk-off coming weeks; we reiterate 2018 calls: Big Long = Vol, Big Short = Credit, Big Risk = Equity Bubble (driven by $10.3tn of negatively yielding debt), Big Rotation from Davos Man to Joe-Six Pack portfolio"

Will this time finally be the charm for BofA's recurring warnings of an imminent market plunge? The next 2 months will reveal if - this time - it was finally right...