Investor euphoria has gone of the boil in the U.S. stock market.
U.S. equities had their biggest outflows last week since mid-November and the fifth largest since 2008, according to a BofA Global Research report on Tuesday. Investors sold a net $5.2 billion in U.S. equities, with retail clients being the only buyers last week as the S&P 500 index rose to an all-time high.
Individual investors have had a stronger appetite for stocks lately compared to hedge funds and institutional investors, the BofA report shows. But equities sentiment is shifting, with the S&P 500 index trading down this week along with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite indexes.
The S&P 500 SPX, -0.92% was down 0.7% on Tuesday afternoon, after a modest decline Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -1.04% had slipped 0.9% by Tuesday afternoon, while the Nasdaq COMP, -1.23% was down about 1%, according to FactSet data.
It appears hedge funds were selling well before stocks edged down this week.
“Retail clients have been buyers for the eighth straight week, while hedge fund clients sold for the third straight week,” BofA equity and quantitative strategists said in their note on last week’s U.S. equity flows. They said four-week average flows had been “trending lower” recently, and turned negative for the first time since mid-February in a pause to the “increasingly euphoric sentiment.”
The Dow and S&P 500 had finished last week at record highs, booking four straight weeks of gains.
“Clients sold cyclical stocks and bought defensives, while passive flows remain more cyclically-oriented albeit muted,” the BofA strategists wrote in Tuesday’s report. “Net sales last week were chiefly in single stocks, while inflows into ETFs were muted.”
Cyclically-oriented areas include sectors such consumer discretionary, industrials, and financials, according to the BofA report. Defensives include areas like health care, staples and real estate.
“Market weakness could continue near-term,” the strategist warned.