Retail investors keep shifting capital from stocks to bonds

It looks like retail investors are maintaining the trend they started two years ago, when they started to shift capital out of stocks and into bonds. Writing for Business Insider, Vincent Fernando produces the following chart showing the capital flow over the last two years:

I'm not too familiar with the fund business but my guess is that this represents retail investor behaviour. Based on what I see here, it looks like we are not observing a temporary change; instead, it looks like a major change in asset allocation. It should also be noted that the retail investors have likely not profitted much in the last two years. Stocks saw the second-biggest rally in history yet retail investors have been shifting out of stocks. Government bonds, at least in USA, also had a rough time last year so the retail investors probably didn't do that well (although this was offset by junk bonds, which saw a spectacular once-in-100-years-type rally, and higher quality corporate bonds also did well last year.)

In addition to market environment, the shift is also likely driven by the ageing baby boomer population. As they approach retirement, I expect them to lower their risk level and start shifting funds away from stocks (for stockpickers, risk is based on price but passive investors generally consider bonds as being safer, and ignore price.)

The other half of the investing world constitute of the institutional investors, such as pension funds, insurance companies, and the like. I don't know how their fund flows have behaved in the last few years. All I know is that they went into the bust with extremely-low exposure to bonds. I expect the institutional funds to end up with similar behaviour as what we are observing for retail investors. That is, continuous shift of capital from stocks to bonds over the years.


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