After years of wandering in the wilderness, Japanese stocks are leading the world’s developed markets higher in what has been a robust opening half of the year. The table shows Japan leading the world’s ten largest developed markets (as measured by the MSCI family of international indexes) with a 24% local currency return through June, easily outpacing the pack. Even as the MSCI USA index gained 17% by successfully “fighting the Fed” this year, Japan surged another 7% beyond that outstanding result. We were curious to understand the nature of Japan’s spectacular run in 2023, looking to identify the drivers of this strong and relatively quick jump higher.
The ETF concept began as a vehicle to provide low-cost access to a broad market index, and the terms “passive”, “cheap”, “index”, and “ETF” were often used synonymously. However, ETFs soon evolved into specialty funds that allowed investors to take focused active tilts in sectors, styles, and countries; a landmark shift away from the notion of passively investing in the total market. These specialty funds are easy to trade and tax efficient, but they do not fall under the labels of cheap, passive, or broad market.
High growth rates, innovation, and disruption are defining traits of the companies that have powered the market to recent highs, and the ARK Innovators Fund (ARKK) is an example of today’s enthusiasm for visionary growth stocks. Recent returns and growth in AUM have been nothing short of spectacular, and ARKK has become symbolic of today’s style of new-era growth investing.
In April 2018, armed with a large number of ETFs and long-enough historical data, we applied our back-testing methodology for individual stocks to the universe of ETFs to determine if the same (or some) of those components could useful for assessing ETF performance prospects. One of the factors we reviewed was fund flow (adjusted by AUM), which revealed that those ETFs experiencing the largest asset inflows proceeded to significantly underperform.
Pfizer’s November 9th announcement of an effective COVID-19 vaccine triggered the most extensive one-day rotation in style factors we have ever seen. Investors flipped from Large Growth—the market’s dominating style over the past few years—and found new friends in Value and Small Cap. This rotation continued through November, to the point that Value and Small Cap each had their best single-month return in 30 years.
The “cash on the sidelines” is a Supply/Demand argument that we’ve struggled with even in the most bullish of times; every purchase of a security is matched with a sale. But even taking the argument at face value, current holdings of retail investors and mutual fund managers suggest that the cash left the sidelines long ago.
While flows into the largest mutual fund category by assets have petered out in recent months, a number of impressive fund flow trends quietly remain intact.
In this report we take an in-depth look at the evolution of the industry, particularly the U.S. mutual fund industry, to help understand how some fund flow trends are more of an indication of evolving investor preferences instead of an indication of retail investor sentiment toward a particular asset class.
There were plenty of interesting facts to be discovered in reading the latest mutual fund flows report from the Investment Company Institute (ICI). The recently released report, which detailed the statistics for September, showed that there were nearly $15 billion of net redemptions from U.S. equity funds for the month. September, by the way, was a month where the S&P 500 rallied to an 8.8% gain. We have noted in the past that the public is generally a trend following herd that buys into market strength and sells on weakness.