Equity ETFs See $23 Billion in New Inflows During May

If April showers bring May flowers, then geopolitical tensions over the last month prodded investors to put over $20 billion of fresh capital into exchange traded funds.

Despite heightened concerns regarding trade tariffs, nuclear programs, rising oil prices and uncertainty facing the Eurozone, equity funds experienced their second-best month of the year in May with $23.3 billion in inflows, trailing only Januarys $40.5 billion haul, according to the latest State Street Global Advisors report.

Conversely, fixed income flows slowed in May, as the asset class only attracted $7 billion for the month.

After a modest $12 billion in inflows in April, equity funds took in $27 billion – far from a sell in May and walk away attitude, Matthew Bartolini, Head of SPDR Americas Research at SSGA told Traders Magazine. The segments trailing twelve month total is now over $280 billion, equating to more than 70% of all US-listed ETF inflows in this period.

Breaking with recent flow trends, however, Bartolini added that sentiment was decidedly negative on international exposures, which saw monthly outflows for the first time since November 2016 – the same month as the US election.

Given the rise in protectionism rhetoric after the election and protectionism actions now, this coincidental outflow shouldnt come as a surprise, Bartolini said. Sentiment was most negative in emerging markets in absolute terms. However, as percentage of assets regional exposures, the leaders -or in this case, I guess, laggards – lost over 4% of their assets this month.

With equity ETFs, technology funds took in nearly $5 billion in May, increasing their 2018 total to over $10 billion. Even though tech-related ETFs make up 30% of all sector assets, Bartolini said, they still rank first in terms of asset growth year-to-date, taking in 3.3% and 7.8% of start-of-month and year assets, respectively.

Thats a tell-tale sign of positive sentiment if there ever was one, he chimed. The only other sector with more than $1 billion of inflows was energy, underscoring how macro news flow drives sentiment. An area to watch will be materials and industrials, as the recent tariffs may boost revenue for one while constricting margins for the other as costs are passed down through the supply chain.

Of particular note, Bartolini said that equity funds now account for over 80% of US-listed ETF assets, indicating the industry is growing from flows outside of stocks, namely fixed income.

Fixed income funds saw $15 billion of inflows in April after two months of below average flows, SSGA noted. In May, however, flows dipped to $7 billion, still plenty to keep the segments impressive streak of inflows going another month. In 2018, fixed income funds have taken in $39 billion, bringing their asset base to more than $612 billion. And, for the first time since 2008, investors are able to look beyond equities for income as the 3-month Treasury now matches the dividend yield of the S&P 500.

Government exposures have been the recipient of 44% of these inflows in 2018 as the sector has grown its AUM by 25% in just five months, Bartolini said. Government funds again led inflows in May, taking in $1.9 billion as investors demonstrated a broader desire for higher quality exposures.

Bartolini explained that fixed income has been bellwether asset gainer for over two years now, even recently outpacing equity inflows for three consecutive months. That said, May stopped the segments recent hot streak, however. Bond funds amassed over $7 billion this past month, and, while lower than the trailing 12-month average (+$9 billion) Mays inflows still reflect continued higher asset growth than equities, taking in 1.2% of start of month assets versus 0.8% for equities.