As stock prices keep falling through the floor, fund investors' dissatisfaction with their shrinking portfolios is apparently hitting new highs.
Facing high tax bills and a bleak market, investors yanked a whopping $15.3 billion out of stock funds in the five trading days that ended Wednesday, their highest five-day outflow in at least two years, according to the latest estimates from liquidity tracker
. For that five-day period, the
S&P 500 and
Nasdaq Composite fell 4.4% and 5.7%, respectively. Over the past 12 months the two benchmarks are down 23% and 60.3%, respectively.
Most of the money -- $12.8 billion -- flowed out of U.S. stock funds. Bond funds also had modest outflows during the five days in question, with redemptions outnumbering investments to the tune of $200 million.
Preliminary flow estimates are often adjusted up or down later, but the figure is the latest illustration of a redemptive trend among fund investors. Fund flows are widely watched as a barometer of investor confidence, but if redemptions get high enough, they can reverberate beyond the fund world and rattle the markets.
we've noted in recent weeks, high redemptions from stock funds can put added pressure on already battered stocks. In 1998 and 1999, for instance, growth funds rode tech stocks to returns that dusted more price-conscious value funds. As money gushed out of value funds and into growth funds, a vicious cycle developed where value managers had to sell stocks to pay cash out to departing investors, often sending those stocks even lower.
If a similar scenario plays out in growth and tech funds, it could send an unexpected blow to the sputtering tech sector. Preliminary fund-flow data released yesterday indicated that February was the first month in two years during which investors' stock-fund redemptions outweighed their investments in them. The numbers, from fund-tracker
and New York fund consultant
, were different, but both indicated that much of the money leaving stock funds is fleeing tech funds and growth funds where big tech positions are leading to big losses.
The average big-, mid- and small-cap growth funds are down more than 35% over the past 12 months, according to
. Tech funds took in some 30 cents of every dollar invested in U.S. stock funds last year, and they're down more than 62% over the past year.
At least some of the current outflows are probably due to investors' usual stockpiling of cash to pay their tax bills next month. Funds boosted those bills by paying out a record $354 billion in taxable capital gains distributions last year, according to data from the
Investment Company Institute
, the fund industry's largest trade group.
But given fund investors' apparent tech overdose, it's reasonable to assume that much of their current selling is the result of investors rebalancing their portfolio by moving money into value-oriented stock funds and bond funds. Lipper's February flow data validate that thesis. Lipper's tally has $4.2 billion leaving growth funds, and tech-sector funds losing $1.6 billion more than they took in. At the same time, Lipper's data show value funds at more than $7.6 billion in the black.
If the market doesn't give tech and growth funds a tailwind soon, redemptions could continue and weigh these funds and stocks down even more.
Fund Junkie runs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as occasional dispatches. Ian McDonald writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to
firstname.lastname@example.org, but he cannot give specific financial advice.