The bond bubble debate might be closer to resolution. An analysis of data provided by the Investment Company Institute, a mutual fund industry trade organization, show bond fund asset inflows have outpaced equity fund inflows for 30 straight months through June.
Of the $10.5 trillion in assets currently held in mutual funds, taxable bond funds accounts for $2 trillion and municipal bond Funds account for $489 billion. In contrast, stock funds account for $4.6 trillion (with the remaining in taxable and non-taxable money market funds and stock/bond hybrid funds).
While total equity assets still dwarf that of bond funds, investors would need to go all the way back to December 2007 to find the last month equity inflows outperformed. It’s a trend similar to another time period of bond inflow outperformance that occurred in the mid-1980s.
“It’s hard to see this turning around any time soon,” says Kevin McDevitt, senior mutual fund analyst with research firm Morningstar. “The flash crash was the last straw, and it only happened three months age, so it’s fresh in everyone’s mind. You’ll need to see a sustained period of outperformance before equity fund inflows levels make a significant comeback.”
While a number of equity crashes occurred in the 1990s, investors saw them as buying opportunities, McDevitt says. This is not the case today, adding to the already unprecedented nature of the recovery.
“Part of it is demographics as well,” he adds. “Baby boomers are retiring, and they’re much more willing to give up on some of the return in order to ensure safety. So it’s really a perfect storm when it comes to the reason for bond fund inflow outperformance.”
According to ICI data, bond funds attracted a total of $559 billion from December 2007 through June 2008. Conversely, equity fund outflows totaled $209.4 billion for the same period.