U.S. mutual fund investors are ploughing on with bets on emerging market equities, according to the latest net flows numbers from our corporate cousins at fund research firm Lipper. Has no one told them there’s supposed to be a massive sell-off?
August was the 30th straight month the sector has seen net inflows, and the 9th straight month of net inflows above $1 billion. Sure, there’s a downward trend from the February peak, but the resilience of demand is notable given doom-laden headlines about how EM markets will fare once the Fed feels its generosity is no longer required.
Of course, the popular image of mutual fund investors is as a perennial lagging indicator for allocations trends, and the stage may be being set for a sharp turnaround this month. However, U.S. investors have already been offloading their bets on emerging debt, with funds in the sector seeing net outflows of $2.6 billion, or 7.5% of total assets, in the three months to end-August.
It may be that this is part of a trend towards international diversification in the U.S., with investors taking a longer view and a more sanguine approach to risk. But they’ll need strong stomachs. Three-month performance at those U.S.-domiciled EM equity funds is at -7.7% (see chart below), while three-month net inflows are at more than $4.5 billion. Juxtapose that with the global EM equity sector over the same period, where average fund performance is at -8.2% and net outflows are a chunky $7.8 billion. In short, investors elsewhere are pulling cash out of emerging equity funds but U.S. fund buyers seem to be going the other way.
Chad Cleaver and Howard Schwab, emerging markets fund managers at U.S. fund firm Driehaus Capital, reckon the data simply reflects some clear incentives for American investors to stick with EM. They told us: