What's going on?
Investors pulled $20 billion out of stock exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in May – the highest level of withdrawals on record.
What does this mean?
The old “sell in May and go away” chestnut came good last month, with investors appearing to do just that. Different ETFs track different things, and those tracking stock markets sold off big time – especially in the US. Investors were particularly keen on getting rid of funds tracking the value of tech and energy stocks, flocking instead to those offering exposure to safer bond markets. Jitters around future global economic growth were the likely culprit, given the raging trade war and tariffs hitting companies’ profits – and therefore their share prices.
Why should I care?
For you personally: ETFs are still cool, guys.
While May was the first month since 2014 in which more money was withdrawn from exchange-traded products in general than was put in, over $5 trillion is still invested in them – 10% more than a year ago (tweet this). ETFs now account for half of US stock funds, partly thanks to the lower fees they charge compared to “actively” managed funds where a manager picks and chooses stocks they think will beat the overall market. (The majority fail to do so, but are still enjoying their second-best performance of the last decade.) ETFs remain attractive to individuals and robo-advisors alike – and with discerning investors now able to more cheaply track ethical investments too, active managers are having to look for other ways to justify their higher fees.
The bigger picture: A fast boat to China.
Chinese brokerage Huatai Securities will become the country’s first company to sell shares in London next week, raising over $1 billion in the process. China’s laws make foreign ownership of public companies tricky, but “global depository receipts” are one way to get around them. The listing may well attract some stock pickers – and inclusion in a few ETFs is sure to follow.