More Premature Reports of the Death of the Individual Investor

Here's Floyd Norris of The New York Times last week:

The love affair of American investors with the stock market appears to have ended.

The year now ending will be the fourth consecutive year in which mutual funds that invest primarily in American stocks experienced net outflows of funds, meaning that investors as a group withdrew more money than they put in.

He's partly right. Investors have been pulling money out of stock mutual funds, especially those that only invest in the United States. No denying that.

But this is an incomplete way of looking at things, and not nearly enough to conclude that we've lost our love of investing.

Norris and many, many others look at mutual fund flows to gauge investor sentiment while ignoring ETF flows. Not a single mention. The craziness of this is that ETFs are quickly replacing inconvenient and expensive mutual funds. Focusing entirely on mutual fund flows and concluding investors have given up is like focusing on cassette tape sales and concluding no one listens to music anymore.

Investors have pulled $39 billion out of stock-based mutual funds since 2009. But over that same period, stock-based ETFs saw $71 billion in inflows, according to data from ICI and the National Stock Exchange. Those inflows along with a markets rebound has doubled the size of stock-based ETF assets.

Source: ICI.

This is a trend that's been going on for more than a decade. "Since the introduction of the first Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) in the U.S. in 1993," write Ilan Guedj and Jennifer Huang of the University of Texas, "ETFs have captured most of the growth in index mutual funds and now constitute about 40% of the index fund market share."

To be fair to Norris, he goes out of his way to focus on domestic stock funds, while duly noting that the exodus was "partly offset by money flowing into foreign stock funds," and that "investors seem more willing to trust in overseas markets."

But this is still incomplete. Since 2008, $260 billion has flowed out of domestic stock mutual funds, yet nearly $100 billion has been added to domestic stock ETFs.

The net result is still a decline for domestic stocks. But this, too, doesn't tell the whole story. Nearly half of all revenue generated by S&P 500 companies now comes from overseas, up from 32% in 2001. The term "domestic stock" has lost relevance. Regardless of whether you invest in companies based in the U.S. or overseas, what you're increasingly getting is a global market. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) generates 85% of its revenue overseas; ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) , 66%; Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) , 73%. Who in their right mind considers these domestic companies? If investors are giving more weight to overseas-based stocks, it's because there's more opportunity, which shouldn't be confused with better opportunity.

Norris goes on to point out that investors throwing in the towel tends to signal the rise of new bull markets. He and I agree on that. I just don't think his numbers prove his point.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of ExxonMobil. Intel and Coca-Cola are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel. The Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola and ExxonMobil. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2010, at 12:02 AM, ilovesumm wrote:

    well just goes to show you that you have too look at the whole picture,

    maybe the investors are tired of mutual fund fees for below index returns ?

    i would never pay a mutual fund

Add your comment.

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 1413324, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 10/25/2016 3:12:04 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Today's Market

updated 5 hours ago Sponsored by:
DOW 18,223.03 77.32 0.43%
S&P 500 2,151.33 10.17 0.47%
NASD 5,309.83 52.43 1.00%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

10/24/2016 4:00 PM
INTC $35.26 Up +0.11 +0.31%
Intel CAPS Rating: ****
KO $42.56 Up +0.43 +1.02%
Coca-Cola CAPS Rating: ****
XOM $86.91 Up +0.29 +0.33%
ExxonMobil CAPS Rating: ****