Forget Money On The Sidelines, Institutional Investors Are All-In

We have discussed the money-on-the-sidelines fallacy a few times recently in the context of the circular money-flows (clear misunderstanding of the idea of a buyer and a seller) as well as mutual fund cash levels, retail sentiment, demographic shifts, and insider transactions. There is mounting evidence, as Morgan Stanley's Michael Wilson notes, that 'make no mistake...institutional investors are all-in' as the rolling beta of mutual funds relative to the S&P 500 tops 1.10x at multi-year highs, institutional investors are most exposed to high beta sectors since MS data began, and long/shorts funds are near their most levered long since MS records began. Combine this with the massive surge in Insider Selling transactions in the last few weeks (apropos Charles Biderman's comments on the rally's support by Insider buying til now) and perhaps bearish retail sentiment will lead this market down as we hope that finally 'money-on-the-sidelines' fades from the parlance of all but the most aged and incompetent of market prognosticators.


Mutual Fund 1 Month Rolling Beta vs S&P 500 at record highs and well over 1x...

The percent of institutional investors who are most overweight the high beta sectors is at record highs...

And long/short funds are increasingly highly levered long with Gross  (Delta-adjusted) near record highs...


Insider-selling transactions have surged after Insider-Buys dominated for much of the last few months...


And so perhaps it is the retail investor with their rising bearish sentiment (lower pane) that leads the market down this time once again - as it did in 2011...


Charts: Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg


And perhaps the clearest (and most to the point on commentators perspectives) explanation of the 'money flow' myth from a 2007 John Hussman article:

The 'money flow' myth


I am increasingly losing confidence that Wall Street operates on a well-defined base of knowledge. Instead, I am struck by the number of platitudes and false constructs that seem to dominate the investment management industry.


First, we should be very clear that there is no such thing as money going into or out of a secondary market. When stocks are issued in an IPO, or bonds are floated to investors, companies receive funds from investors and, in return, give investors pieces of paper called stocks and bonds, as evidence of the investors' claim on some future stream of cash. This is a 'primary market' transaction.


Once those pieces of paper are issued, they are traded between investors in the 'secondary market'. When we talk about the stock market, we're talking almost exclusively about the secondary market, because new issues make up a very small part of total activity.


Dear Wall Street analysts and financial reporters - when investors purchase a stock in the secondary market, the dollars that buyers bring 'into' the market are immediately taken 'out of' the market in the hands of the sellers. It is an exchange. This is why the place it happens is called a 'stock exchange'. The stock market is not an air balloon into which money goes in or out and expands or contracts that balloon. Nor is it a water balloon that is expanded by pouring in 'liquidity'. Prices are not driven by the amount of money that buyers 'put in' or sellers 'take out' (as those dollar amounts are identical). Prices are determined by the relative eagerness of the buyer versus the seller.


If a dentist in Poughkeepsie is willing to pay up 10 cents to buy a single share of General Electric, the total market value of General Electric increases by over $1 billion (GE has 10.28 billion shares outstanding - do the math). In this way, market capitalization can be created and destroyed out of thin air and on the smallest of trading volumes. So you'd better be sure that the there is a sound and fairly reliable stream of expected cash flows backing up the value of the securities you're buying.


Cash does not ever find a 'home' in a secondary market. Every time you hear the phrase 'investors are putting money into' or 'investors are taking money out of', or 'money is flowing out of - and into', it is a signal that the speaker is unable to distinguish a secondary market from a primary one.


As I used to teach my students, if Mickey sells his money market fund to buy stocks from Ricky, the money market fund has to sell some of its T-bills or commercial paper to Nicky, whose cash goes to Mickey, who uses the cash to buy stocks from Ricky. In the end, the cash that was held by Nicky is now held by Ricky, the money market securities that were held by Mickey are now held by Nicky, and the stock that was held by Ricky is now held by Mickey. There may have been some change in the relative prices between cash, money market securities and stocks, depending on which of the three was most eager, but there is precisely the same amount of 'cash on the sidelines' after that set of transactions as there was before it.