The S&P 500 tumbled last week, falling 1.2% as investors continued to unload U.S. equities, particularly Health Care stocks. The index has been especially choppy over the last week or so as analysts debate how much more room the apparent short squeeze has to run. But despite the rally we’ve seen over the last six weeks or so, it seems many investors just aren’t buying it—pun intended.
Still no confidence in the rally
Bank of America Merrill Lynch Strategists Jill Carey Hall and Savita Subramanian said in their April 12 update on their firm’s equity client flow trends that clients still lack confidence in the market’s rally. For the eleventh week in a row, BAML clients were net sellers of U.S. equities, although last week could mark a trough as they said the $1.7 billion in net sales was less than the previous week. Specifically, they state:
Clients still lack confidence in market rally Last week, during which the S&P 500 was down 1.2%, BofAML clients were net sellers of US equities for the 11th consecutive week. Net sales of $1.7bn were smaller than in the prior week, but all three client groups (hedge funds, institutional clients, private clients)
remained net sellers, led by institutional clients.
However, hedge funds, institutional clients and private clients all were net sellers last week. The net sales came in both large and mid-cap stocks, although clients did buy small cap stocks last week.
The BAML team noted an acceleration in corporate buybacks, although they added that buybacks remain lower than recent trends. This is no surprise, however, as this is usually a light time for buybacks as so many companies are in their blackout periods for discretionary repurchases because of earnings. So far this year, Hall and Subramanian said cumulative repurchases are still higher than where they were last year at this time, although they’re lower than where they were two years ago.
Still unloading Health Care stocks
Almost no sector was safe from the wrath of BAML clients, who dumped stocks in eight of the ten sectors in the S&P 500. This is still an improvement from the previous week, however, as the firm’s clients were net sellers in all ten sectors. Financials and Consumer Discretionary stocks were the least favorite last week, racking up the most net sales.
The only two sectors that saw net buying last week were Telecom and Industrials, although exchange-traded funds also saw net buying. Interestingly, the BAML team said last week was the first time since the February plunge that their clients purchased Industrials and Telecom stocks. Hall and Subramanian added that private clients drove the inflows into both sectors.
Health Care stocks continue to be among the most buffeted with all three major client group continuing to unload them last week. Year to date, all three of the groups have sold Health Care stocks, and this is only one of two sectors in which this is true, with Staples being the other sector. The BAML team said Health Care stocks have been batted about by investors’ unwinding of their past positions and political uncertainty as presidential candidates target drug companies’ steep price increases.
Hall and Subramanian also said that institutional clients had been mostly unloading stocks across all sectors, but they’ve been “big net buyers” of Tech stocks year to date, including last week.