The stock market has been on a bull run since the spring of 2009, but many individual investors have not been buying it. And in 2012, for the sixth year running, they continued to flee equities, pulling some $152 billion out of equity mutual funds and ETFs in the first 11 months of the year, according to EPFR Global, even as the S&P gained some 13% over the period.
Much of that money -- about $90 billion through November 2012 -- went into bonds and bond funds. But close to $60 billion appears to have left financial markets altogether.
What impact has this been having for advisor assets under management, especially in the bank channel? Its hard to say definitively. BISRA, which collects such data, hasnt finished putting its numbers together for the year and doesnt provide quarterly data. But there are other clues that it has been getting tougher than usual to build AUM as an advisor.
According to a report put out by the Investment Company Institute (ICI), total assets under management by US investment companies, including banks (where 7% of financial advisors have their offices) have been essentially flat, falling from $13.1 billion in 2010 to $13.0 trillion in 2011 and in 2012.
At the advisor level, this pullback by investors from equities -- and the strong desire to move into bonds -- is clearly being felt.
Paul Shoukry, vice president of finance and investor relations at Raymond James, says the company has been noticing a trend echoing the macro trend being reported by ICI and EPFR Global. A Raymond James press release from December showed total commissions and fees at the company actually dropping slightly from $244.2 million in October to $237.8 million in November. To be sure, that November figure was significantly higher than the $171.5 million in commissions booked during November 2011, but Shoukry notes that the 2012 figures include an a 25% boost (about $61 million) from the additional commissions earned by advisors working for the Morgan Keegan acquisition. Without that boost, the November-to-November figures would be essentially flat.
Kevin Mummau, executive vice president for program development at CUSO Financial Services, agrees that there has definitely been a flight to safety among investors, with a lot of money still sitting on the sidelines in the bank or in money market funds. But he adds that, at least for the advisors at his TPM, production levels have been returning to normal, after having taking a hit in recent years.
In part that may be because bank-based advisors tend to work with clients who are already bank customers, and who have their money parked right there in the bank. He also attributes advisor success at growing AUM to our focus on really getting advisors who are consultation-oriented, not transaction-oriented.
EPFR Global Managing Director Simon Ringrose and other experts have suggested that part of the explanation for the investor shift from equities to bonds is demographic. With Baby Boomers, who as a group are either just beginning to hit retirement age, or approaching that point, representing the largest single group of investors, there may be a desire to reduce risk.
Shelly Antoniewicz, senior economist a ICI, agrees thats a factor, but she notes that ICIs research also shows that investors of all ages have developed a reduced appetite for risk between 2008 and 2012, with the percentage of all investors willing to take above-average or substantial investment risk falling from 36% to 28% over that time. (The one exception is investors under age 35, who notched a slight increase in risk-taking going from 37% in 2008 to 39% last year.)
Saut questions this analysis, noting that a lot of the money moving into bonds is actually going into high-yield bonds, which he says may be those same Baby Boomers trying not for safety but for a way to lock in higher yields for their still inadequate retirement savings. He warns that this may be a bad plan though. I think most people dont realize that the losses could be huge in bond funds in a rising interest-rate environment, he says.