Billions of dollars gushed out of growth funds last month -- but how many billions depend on whom you ask, apparently.
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Early Wednesday, fund-tracker
reported that growth funds' net outflows in February totaled more than $4 billion and, in sum, stock funds' net outflows were a record $11.4 billion. That roughly jives with
an earlier estimate from liquidity tracker
which reported $13.4 billion in outflows. But 10 minutes after the Lipper release came a data release from New York fund consultancy
, which estimated growth fund outflows at $5 billion and total stock-fund outflows at just $1 billion. Firmer data won't be available until next week when the
Investment Company Institute
, the fund industry's largest trade group, releases its February flow numbers.
What's the big deal? Well, I'm watching mutual funds' cash flows pretty closely these days because
I've been harping on the idea that money gushing out of sputtering growth funds could rattle an already shaky market. Here's why: Redemptions could put even more pressure on the already battered tech sector if growth fund managers have to sell stocks to pay you and me our money back.
It's also a big deal because it's the first outflow month for stock funds in two years and a record for one-month outflows, beating the $8 billion that gushed out in October 1987, though that was some 5% of stock fund assets while last month's was just 0.3% of stock fund assets, according to Lipper.
A Short, Tough Month
In February, the tech-heavy
Nasdaq Composite fell a whopping 22.4%, leaving it down more than 61% over the past 12 months, according to
S&P 500 lost 9.2% in February and is down 22% over the past year.
While TrimTabs.com's data are culled by sampling data from some fund shops, Lipper and Strategic Insight cast a wider and more similar net.
"Lipper looks at a similar number of funds as us, so our numbers should be similar," says Avi Nachmany, Strategic Insight's director of research. "I don't know how to account for it. I'm confident in our numbers. We could be wrong, but I don't think so."
A Lipper analyst didn't immediately return a phone call for comment. Beyond the differing figures, there are a couple of continuing trends: Fund investors are ratcheting down their holdings in growth funds and are moving them out of the market.
There are a couple of factors that are driving this money migration, namely flagging performance and the looming specter of tax day -- April 16 this year.
In recent years growth funds gorged themselves at the tech-stock buffet, riding the hot sector to outsize returns and garnering record inflows. But frothy valuations, a sagging economy and tumbling earnings have more than halved many tech favorites during the past year, punishing growth funds as well. At the same time, tech-light and more price-conscious value funds are bearing up well by comparison.
Big Growth vs. Big Value
Source: Morningstar. Annualized returns through March 20.
And it seems cash flows are starting to follow those returns. 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.
This shift is reflected in Strategic Insight's figures, too. By their count, growth funds were in net outflows to the tune of $5 billion, while value funds took in more than $6 billion in net new inflows.
Investors are also moving a lot of money out of the stock market, mostly into money market or cash funds, which took in $45.8 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively, more than they lost to redemptions last month, according to Lipper. Strategic Insight's data say money market funds took in more than $65 billion and bond funds took in $7 billion.
Some money often heads to the sidelines at this time of year as investors raise cash to pay their tax bills due April 16, but it could be exaggerated given the record taxable capital gains distributions funds doled out last year. In 2000 mutual funds paid out some $345 billion in cap gains distributions, trouncing the record of $238 billion set the year before, according to the Investment Company Institute.
We'll have to wait for the Institute's figures next week to know exactly how much cash left stock funds. While it seems a certainty that growth funds have a shrinking fan club, that may be the only certainty on the fund-flow front until then.
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
email@example.com, but he cannot give specific financial advice.