The lackluster earnings season and ongoing economic weakness have caused exchange traded fund investors to shift away from riskier equity markets into more conservative, safe-haven assets.
According to EPFR data, investors redeemed over $10 billion from U.S. equity funds in the week ended February 4, the fifth constitutive week funds have recorded an outflow, reports Eric Platt for the Financial Times.
In the ETF space, broad stock-related investments were among the least popular holdings over the past week. For instance, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) saw almost $2 billion in net outflows, iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: IVV) experienced $1.2 billion in outflows and iShares Russell 2000 ETF (NYSEArca: IWM) shrunk by $702.2 million, according to ETF.com.
Meanwhile, investors turned to safe-haven assets like bond funds that hold U.S. government debt, with $15 billion shifting into the asset class over the past eight weeks. Treasuries have strengthened so far this year as uncertainty helped drive down yields.
“Mutual fund investors stepped cautiously during the week . . . as mixed macroeconomic data from China and the US, mixed corporate earnings from both sides of the Atlantic and mixed predictions of the short-term outlook for oil kept markets on edge,” Cameron Brandt, director of research for EPFR, told the Financial Times.
Looking at the most popular ETF plays over the past week, the iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEArca: IEF) attracted $426.7 million in net inflows, iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEArca: SHY) brought in $365.2 million and iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEArca: TLT) added $308.0 million.
Additionally, safe-haven SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD) experienced $888.7 million in inflows as the U.S. dollar weakened. The defensive sector First Trust Utilities AlphaDEX Fund (NYSEArca: FXU) also saw $383.7 million in inflows, and the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLU) attracted $439.2 million.
Concerns over a global slowdown weighed on riskier assets and equity markets since the new year began, adding to speculation that the Federal Reserve may hold off on four interest rate hikes this year.
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