NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The question investors ought to be posing about the bond bubble is not whether it exists, but how long it will continue to inflate.
"Bubble" buzz usually heats up around the time that the smartest players on Wall Street are exiting a market, right around the time lowly retail investors are warming up to the trend. The recent enthusiasm for debt -- particularly bonds backed by the U.S. federal government -- has now been dubbed "The Great American Bond Bubble" by widely respected intellectuals. It's safe to say the bubble buzz has begun.
Since a day of heavily volatility in May, $46 billion has left the stock market, with $77 billion flowing into bonds, according to the Investment Company Institute. The flow trend has been consistent over the last eight weeks.
Even more dramatic has been the shift since the stock market reached its height in October 2007: a decline of $248 billion vs. $615 billion; since the stock market low in March 2009, it's been -$382 billion vs. +$540 billion."There's been a huge inflow into bond funds as everybody knows," says Andrew Neale, founder of Fogel Neale Partners, a wealth management firm in New York. Investors have also been plunging cash into gold, money-market funds and simple bank deposits that offer marginal yields. The gutsiest have been dipping their toes into investment-grade corporate or even high-yield bonds -- essentially anything but stocks. It's not news that investors have been frightened by the twists and turns of a highly volatile stock market. Who can blame them? Just a few months ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted over 1,000 points in a single day only to recoup most of that value by the session's close. That "flash crash" came just after a tumultuous year or so in which the market hit a rock-bottom low in early March 2009, to ultimately climb 83% when it topped out in mid-April 2010. Few stocks have been spared - even blue-chip names that offer attractive dividend yields in addition to growth potential. Procter & Gamble (PG), with a $1.93 annual payout, and a yield of 3.22%, is down roughly 5% since mid-April. Kraft (KFT), which offers a $1.16 annual dividend and 3.99% yield, has dropped even further. Pfizer (PFE), with its 72 cent payout offering a 4.5% yield is much the same. As Simon Baker, founder of the money-management firm Baker Asset Management, puts it: "This isn't your father's market."
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