February ETF Flows Reveal Rising Preference for Risk Assets

The iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: IVV) experienced $1.3 billion in net inflows, which is surprising given the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) was among the least popular plays of the past month after seeing $283.7 million in outflows. The shift to IVV suggests that long-term investors may be looking at the iShares options due to its cheaper expense ratio, or the losses in SPY, which has traditionally been the go-to tactical tool for large traders, may reflect the increased desire for profit taking after the recent record-setting gains. Although, it is probably the later reason given that the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (NYSEArca: DIA) also saw $921.6 million in outflows, even after the record-breaking consecutive streak rally in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The broad Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF (NYSEArca: VEA) saw $1.3 billion in inflows and the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index ETF (NYSEArca: VTI) also brought in $1.2 billion.

Lastly, the iShares Core S&P Small-Cap ETF (NYSEArca: IJR) added $1.1 billion, which is also surprising since the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (NYSEArca: IWM) was the most hated ETF of the past month after losing $1.6 billion in outflows. Again, short-term traders may have engaged in profit taken with IWM or long-term investors may have turned to IJR as a cheaper option for small-cap exposure.

On the sell side, individual ETF outflows have been relatively sparse, compared to the previous month. For instance, the iShares MSCI Japan ETF (NYSEArca: EWJ) lost $430.3 million and iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSEArca: HYG) shrunk by $342 million.

The low-vol factor also went out of favor in a bullish February, with the iShares MSCI USA Minimum Volatility ETF (NYSEArca: USMV) seeing $330.5 million in outflows and iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol Global ETF (NYSEArca: ACWV) losing $309 million.

Furthermore, conservative fixed-income asset categories lost ground with $303.9 million pulled from the iShares S&P National AMT-Free Muni Bond ETF (NYSEArca: MUB) and $284.3 million yanked out of the iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEArca: IEF).

Lastly, the iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF (NYSEArca: EWW) experienced $264.3 million in outflows, despite the recent rebound in Mexican equities. Traders may have been taking profits while they can as the markets still anticipate Trump’s administration to adhere to a protectionist and restricted immigration stance.