Does the money match the story?
Perhaps the biggest investment theme of the year so far has been the extent to which long-term investors may now slowly migrate back to under-owned and under-priced equities from super-expensive safe haven bunkers such as ‘core’ government bonds, yen, Swiss francs etc to which they herded at each new gale of the 5-year-old credit storm.
Indeed, some go further and say asset allocation mixes of the big institutional pension and insurance funds are – for a variety of regulatory and demographic reasons – now at such historical extremes in favour of bonds that they may now need rethinking in what some dub The Great Rotation.
All this has played into a new year whoosh in equity and other risk markets, as ebbing tail risks from the euro zone, US budget and China combine with signs of a decent cyclical turn in the world economy into 2013. Wall St’s S&P500, for example, has climbed 5.5% in January so far and closed above 1500 for the first time in more than five years last week following its longest winning streak (8-days) in eight years.
But what sort of money is behind this price move? Well, new cash flowing into equity funds so far this year has been the highest on record at some $55 billion. Retail investors have certainly been big participants, with Lipper data showing new-year retail inflows to U.S.-based stock funds at their highest since 2001. HSBC points out that 9 consecutive weeks of net retail buying of equities is “longer and larger” that any of the sporadic bursts seen over the past two years and emerging market equity appears to be a clear favourite.
But what of the bigger behemoths?
An HSBC analysis on global fund holdings (based on data provided by fund tracker EPFR) reckons big international funds are far less pessimistic than they were six months but are still broadly neutral on equity overall. “We measure this by tracking the holdings of high and low beta sectors and it is now only marginally in favour of low beta sectors”