While the forces of supply and demand in the stock market might be moving out of alignment, there's no need to panic about a decline in prices just yet. Although mutual fund inflows are expected to slow down soon and corporate stock offerings are projected to increase, analysts say this doesn't necessarily bode ill for the market over the short term. "There's a very loose connection" between fund inflows and the direction of the stock market, said Tom McManus, equity strategist at Banc of America. "We don't believe that money flow leads prices, we believe money flow follows performance." In the week ending March 3, investors poured $3.9 billion into mutual funds, up from $2.5 billion in the prior week, according to data from AMG. Still, analysts aren't impressed by the increase, noting that inflows are often strong at the start of the month because this is when many workers are paid and contribute to retirement plans. McManus said he still expects demand for mutual funds to moderate "in the near future" and is predicting average monthly inflows of $15 billion going forward. That's down from an estimated $29 billion in February and far below the $40.8 billion recorded in January. A drop-off in mutual fund inflows is fairly common at the end of the first quarter. That's partly because investors are busy selling stocks for tax purposes, but it's also due to a natural slowdown in momentum. The first three months of the year are usually very strong because there's so much pent-up demand from investors who prematurely hit their 401(k) contribution limits in the prior year. While money flows aren't always helpful in determining the near-term direction of the market, McManus said they're still worth watching. "There's no problem following the caboose on the train as long as you know it's the caboose," he said.
Charles Biderman, CEO of Trim Tabs, agrees. In fact, he worries more than most about the potential imbalances between supply and demand. So far this year, 19 initial public offerings have made their debut and the trend shows no sign of slowing. This week, two IPOs, Tom Online and Semiconductor Manufacturing International, are on tap. Three other companies, Blackboard, NuVasive and AngioDynamics, filed to go public on Friday alone. Meanwhile, General Electric ( GE) said Monday it will issue 118 million shares of stock worth $3.8 billion to fund the purchase of Vivendi Universal ( V). Biderman estimates that new offerings and sales by corporate insiders will amount to roughly $2.7 billion a day this year, while stock buybacks and cash takeovers will amount to $1 billion a day. "Unless inflows stay high, there's not going to be enough cash to fund all the new offerings," he said. In the first four days of March, daily inflows into equity mutual funds hit $1.4 billion. Brett Gallagher, head of U.S. equities at Julius Baer Investment Management, doesn't doubt that IPOs and secondary offerings will remain strong this year. But he believes cash takeovers could increase more than expected, too, which could take away some of the excess supply. He also noted that insider sales should drop off after reaching record levels recently. Last month, there were $50 of insider sales for every $1 of insider buying, according to Gallagher. "This is only the third time in history that this has happened, and I would challenge
those who think insider selling is going to pick up," he said. Gallagher also noted that demand for stocks could actually increase after April 15 because a number of people will be receiving tax rebates from the government. "I think the market still appears to be very much in an uptrend," he said.