1. Economic Indicators: Overview
  2. Economic Indicators: Beige Book
  3. Economic Indicators: Business Outlook Survey
  4. Economic Indicators: Consumer Confidence Index (CCI)
  5. Economic Indicators: Consumer Credit Report
  6. Economic Indicators: Consumer Price Index (CPI)
  7. Economic Indicators: Durable Goods Report
  8. Economic Indicators: Employee Cost Index (ECI)
  9. Economic Indicators: Employee Situation Report
  10. Economic Indicators: Existing Home Sales
  11. Economic Indicators: Factory Orders Report
  12. Economic Indicators: Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  13. Economic Indicators: Housing Starts
  14. Economic Indicators: Industrial Production
  15. Economic Indicators: Jobless Claims Report
  16. Economic Indicators: Money Supply
  17. Economic Indicators: Mutual Fund Flows
  18. Economic Indicators: Non-Manufacturing Report
  19. Economic Indicators: Personal Income and Outlays
  20. Economic Indicators: Producer Price Index (PPI)
  21. Economic Indicators: Productivity Report
  22. Economic Indicators: Purchasing Managers Index (PMI)
  23. Economic Indicators: Retail Sales Report
  24. Economic Indicators: Trade Balance Report
  25. Economic Indicators: Wholesale Trade Report

By Ryan Barnes

Release Date: Monthly, about four weeks after month\'s end
Release Time: During market hours
Coverage: Stock, bond and money market funds
Released By: Investment Company Institute (ICI)
Latest Release: http://www.ici.org/stats/index.html

Background
Dollar flows into and out of mutual funds is a modern-day indicator, one based on sentiment but still useful to the wise investor. The Investment Company Institute (ICI) is the most reliable source of mutual fund trends, publishing a monthly report covering domestic and international stock funds, bond funds and even money markets. The ICI is a non-profit organization whose members are the majority of investment companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The organization has reported before Congress and presents free information for investors and economists by sampling more than 8,000 mutual funds, closed-end funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and unit investment trusts (UITs).

The Federal Reserve also issues money market figures in its Money Supply Report, and TrimTabs offers daily and weekly data to investors through its website.

Most often, mutual fund flows are presented as the net of all inflows and outflows measured over the period; if total dollars going in is the same as dollars being sold out, total flows over the period will be $0. In the monthly ICI report, new sales, redemptions and exchanges are netted out to show a "net new cash flow" figure, which can be positive or negative for a given period. Average cash levels at stock funds are also shown in the report

What it Means for Investors
Stocks and bonds respond to changes in demand like any other investment, and knowing what the prevailing investing trends are can help investors to decide whether the present time is a good one to invest in one asset class or another. While mutual fund flows alone do not determine investor sentiment (institutional money and individual shareholders are excluded in the ICI report), they do represent the way most investors participate in the markets - mutual fund assets in the United States alone stood at more than $10 trillion at the end of 2006.

That said, strong flows into stock mutual funds does not guarantee good times ahead for equity investors. Some economists even see fund flows as a "false positive", or contrarian indicator, with the logic being that most people commit more money to the stock market when it has already run up, and has received a lot of positive press and mainstream coverage. A recent and powerful example can be seen in the last few months of the stock market peak back in early 2000. Stock market flows were at record levels those first few months; soon after, the stock market began a steady march downward, with major indexes dropping more than 50% in the next year.




If the market is coming out of a recession or other weak period, seeing fund flows grow in stock funds can be a positive indicator, suggesting that investors are increasing their allocations for stocks. When mutual fund managers have more cash coming in, they have to go out and purchase stocks on the open market to keep their portfolio percentages in the right proportions.


Money market fund flows can be read in a similar way, with increasing flows being seen as a sign that stocks may be undervalued, and vice versa. (To learn more, read Money Market Mutual Funds.)

Strengths:
  • Valuable source of investor sentiment
  • Information available for other countries; ICI even provides a "worldwide" figure
  • Valuable for seeing fund manager sentiment through average cash levels (considered a defensive asset class)
Weaknesses:
  • Can be interpreted in different ways (such as a contrarian indicator)
  • Does not show total market ownership - only mutual funds
  • Difficult to separate secular trends in fund ownership from market timing situations month to month

The Closing Line
Fund flows may be seen as esoteric, but smart investors should consider adding this to their arsenal of indicators to know and study, understanding that stock and bond markets have supply and demand patterns that may be distinct from economic activity.

Economic Indicators: Non-Manufacturing Report

Related Articles
  1. Financial Advisor

    A Mutual Funds Guide for Young Investors

    Learn how mutual funds work, why they are so popular and how younger investors can get started by putting mutual funds in their IRAs or 401(k)s.
  2. Financial Advisor

    Advising FAs: Explaining Mutual Funds to a Client

    More than 80 million people, or half of the households in America, invest in mutual funds. No matter what type of investor you are, there is bound to be a mutual fund that fits your style.
  3. Investing

    When To Buy A Mutual Fund

    There is money to be made in mutual funds, but investors fall into several pitfalls that keep them from maximizing their profits. Read these tips to take the uncertainty out of investing in mutual ...
  4. Financial Advisor

    5 Secrets You Didn’t Know About Mutual Funds

    Learn five of the "secrets" about mutual funds that can have a significant impact on mutual fund choices and investor profitability.
  5. Investing

    The Benefits of Picking Mutual Funds Over Individual Stocks

    Learn about the advantages of investing in mutual funds rather than individual stocks, including the benefits of affordability, oversight and diversification.
  6. Investing

    Trading Mutual Funds For Beginners

    Learn about the basics of trading and investing in mutual funds. Understand how the fees charged by mutual funds can impact the performance of an investment.
  7. Investing

    Mutual Funds Are Awesome - Except When They're Not

    This investment is very popular, but that doesn't mean it comes without risk.
  8. Financial Advisor

    Will ETFs Eventually Replace Mutual Funds?

    Will mutual funds be replaced by ETFs? Possibly, but it's not too likely and probably not anytime soon.
  9. Investing

    3 Strategies for Trading Mutual Funds

    Learn some of the most commonly used investment strategies employed by mutual fund managers or that can be employed by individual mutual fund investors.
  10. Investing

    Mutual Funds: Does Size Really Matter?

    The growth of mutual funds isn't always cause for celebration. Read on to find out why.
Frequently Asked Questions
  1. Depreciation Can Shield Taxes, Bolster Cash Flow

    Depreciation can be used as a tax-deductible expense to reduce tax costs, bolstering cash flow
  2. What schools did Warren Buffett attend on his way to getting his science and economics degrees?

    Learn how Warren Buffett became so successful through his attendance at multiple prestigious schools and his real-world experiences.
  3. How many attempts at each CFA exam is a candidate permitted?

    The CFA Institute allows an individual an unlimited amount of attempts at each examination.Although you can attempt the examination ...
  4. What's the average salary of a market research analyst?

    Learn about average stock market analyst salaries in the U.S. and different factors that affect salaries and overall levels ...
Trading Center