Australian investors pump billions into equity funds as hopes rise for an end to the pandemic ______

Ross Fox, Managing Director - Head of Australia and New Zealand

Australian investors pumped $9.5bn into equity mutual funds in the last twelve months, according to the first quarterly Fund Flow Index (FFI) from Calastone, the largest global funds network. Calastone’s FFI analyses the millions of trades investors place in Australia’s managed funds.

Since the shock global stock market crash that accompanied the economic stoppages sweeping the world in March 2020, investors have poured money into equity funds. Inflows peaked in November and December on the back of vaccine euphoria. And although a third wave of infection in the northern hemisphere took some of the shine off inflows in January, evidence that the most advanced vaccine rollouts are successfully quelling the epidemic in countries like Israel, the UK and US, has since driven rising volumes of inflows to equity funds in Australia and elsewhere.

Equity funds garnered $3.0bn of new capital in the first quarter of 2021, almost half of it in March alone. Australians have been so bullish that they added more capital to equity funds in February and March this year than they did in all of 2019.

As well as measuring the value of inflows and outflows, Calastone’s index attributes a score that measures the conviction of investors. This score (the FFI) compares the net inflow or outflow to the total turnover (the combined value of redemptions and applications). The more buys outweigh sells, the closer to 100 the index will score the inflow. If buys equal sells, the score is 50.

Over the last six months Calastone’s FFI:Equity in Australia has averaged 60.1, meaning that buys in this market have outweighed sells 1.5:1. This is an extremely high reading for an asset class as large and well established as equity funds. In the UK, for example, Calastone’s FFI:Equity has been just 53 over the same period and was considered very positive for equity funds there.

The buying is not indiscriminate, however. Australians have especially favoured global equity funds and funds focused on Australian equities. Specialist sector funds and emerging markets have also seen good demand. Meanwhile, investors have consistently withdrawn money from equity income funds[1] which have been hit by the unprecedented dividend cuts of the last year in Australia, Europe and the UK in particular. Sell orders for equity income funds have outgunned buy orders more than 2:1 since April last year. These funds had seen outflows for nine consecutive months by the end of March. Investors have shunned European equity funds too, though these are a small category for investors here.

Calastone is also seeing evidence of greater switching between funds in recent months. Turnover (applications plus redemptions) has risen and over the last six months was over a third (35%) higher on average that it was in 2019. In March 2021 turnover reached a record $7.0bn.

Ross Fox, Head of Australia and New Zealand at Calastone said: “Almost every trade in Australian mutual funds passes across Calastone’s network so we are uniquely placed to take the temperature of Australian investors.

The government’s stimulus measures have provided unprecedented support to the Australian economy while the Reserve Bank’s quantitative easing has suppressed interest rates to record lows. With authorities all round the world pursuing similar policies, the resulting stock market boom has sucked in massive amounts of new capital to equity funds.

The preference for global and Australian equity funds reflects investor judgement that this country will join the global economic leaders as the pandemic comes to an end. Booming commodity prices that are especially positive for Australian share prices and the economy here are clear evidence that this judgement is already proving right. The sharp increase in the Australian dollar over the last year is also a vote of confidence in the country’s near-term prospects.

Stirrings in the bond markets which have seen yields rising sharply this year are causing a significant rotation in equity markets, and by extension in funds. Big tech has come off the boil as its ‘jam tomorrow’ valuations get impacted by higher long-bond yields, while stocks typically considered ‘value’ like mining companies have proven more attractive again. All this is driving higher trading volumes in funds as investors switch from one investment style to another, rather than simply adding new cash to their holdings.”

[1] Equity funds with an explicit income mandate

Methodology

Calastone analysed over half a million buy and sell orders every month from January 2019, tracking capital from advisers, platforms and as it flows into and out of managed funds. Data is collected until the close of business on the last day of each month. A single order is usually the aggregated value of a number of trades from underlying investors passed for example from a platform via Calastone to the fund manager. In reality, therefore, the index is analysing the impact of many millions of investor decisions each month.

More than 95% of Australian managed fund flows by participant pass across the Calastone network each month. All these trades are included in the FFI. To avoid double-counting, however, the team has excluded deals that represent transactions where funds of funds are buying those funds that comprise the portfolio.

The index is a measure of investor conviction, placing the net flow of capital into the context of overall trading volumes. It also allows the reader to compare flows in asset classes of different sizes – $100m of inflows may be very large for a small, relatively new asset class like ESG equity but very small for a huge category like fixed income. A reading of 50 indicates that new money investors put into funds equals the value of redemptions (or sales) from funds. A reading of 100 would mean all activity was buying; a reading of 0 would mean all activity was selling. In other words, £1m of net inflows will score more highly if there is no selling activity, than it would if £1m was merely a small difference between a large amount of buying and a similarly large amount of selling.

Calastone’s FFI considers transactions only by Australia-based investors, placing orders for funds domiciled in Australia. The majority of this capital is advised, via platforms.