Fund flows are not a zero-sum game. But when some firms are losing more than the
Washington Generals, it's time to take a look at who has the winning footwork.
For the first time since New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer initiated his investigation of improper trading practices in several mutual fund companies, the fund industry has seen an overall loss -- and it's entirely attributable to
A net $854 million was redeemed from all U.S. equity funds in the week ending Wednesday, Nov. 5, according to AMG Data Services, which tracks money flows into and out of mutual funds. But overall flows into equity funds were up -- once you've subtracted the whopping $3.9 billion that came flooding out of Putnam equity funds last week.
Putnam -- a unit of
Marsh & McLennan
-- is just the latest firm to be crushed in Spitzer's suit.
Janus Capital Management
, which was named in Spitzer's initial investigation, saw its funds lose $1.6 billion in assets in October.
The big winners are clear: Money poured into firms that investors have long regarded as trustworthy, such as
T. Rowe Price
. But that's no surprise for those who track these numbers.
"It's fairly evident if you look at fund-flow data over the past two years that lower-expense firms have been found by investors," says Kunal Kapoor, an analyst with fund research firm Morningstar. "Some of these funds -- Vanguard, Fidelity and American in particular -- are certain to be the big winners."
Fidelity, Vanguard and American funds together make up 7% of equity funds, but more importantly, they hold 40% of all equity fund assets. These huge fund families are in countless retirement and college savings plans and are also held by millions of investors individually. These fund giants will always have impressive inflows, but they're surely having a heyday now.
Watching fund flows is a bit like reading tea leaves, though, cautions Don Cassidy, an analyst with Lipper, a Reuters Company.
Granted, it's hard to interpret the $9.7 billion in assets that Putnam funds have lost since the firm was charged in Spitzer's suit as anything but bad news for the firm, but you can't draw a direct line from that to Fidelity's and Vanguard's inflows. (Exact inflows for these firms weren't available as of Friday.)
Cassidy also notes that we'll likely see an uptick in flows to exchange-traded funds, which don't have the management issues. (Exchange-traded funds are similar to index funds in that they're baskets of stocks that ape an index, but they can be traded throughout the day like individual stocks.)
For now, though, investors seem willing to stick with actively managed funds -- they just want different managers.
( SCH) saw October inflows of $2.7 billion, up from $1.7 billion in September. "The majority of that money went into actively managed funds," says spokesperson Lance Berg. "It's the best month we've had since March 2002."
Investors have also shown some patience -- Nations Funds, operated by
Bank of America
, which was named along with Janus in Spitzer's initial suit, actually reported net
of $16 million in October.
"It's certainly clear that Putnam and Janus have the lion's share of outflows," Kapoor says. "These two firms have had it tough in terms of bear market performance, and the recent scandal is just the tipping point for a lot of investors."