It is often said> that bear markets are built on hope while bull markets are built on doubt. That makes sense. We re naturally hopeful on those bets we ve made and doubtful about those we have not.
As a contrarian, however, you don t want to make the same bet as everyone else. So to avoid the herd, find out where they are investing and go somewhere else. Investment flows are the dumb money s unmistakable prints.
Back in the early 2000s, there was zero appetite for gold, foreign bonds or emerging market stocks. Most investors saw them as dead money (there s the doubt). They were far more certain in quick rebounds for Microsoft, Cisco and other firms that suffered tech-era losses (and there s the hope).
What a difference a decade makes. Last week investors poured another $6 billion into emerging markets, a 33-month high and the second highest week in history, according to EPFR Global. Flows into Brazil in particular hit a 156-week high. Commodity funds pulled in another $706 million, their fourth week of inflows amid a record year.
The inflows don t mean these markets can t continue higher, only that it s pretty clear the public is well on board. For me, that s good enough reason look elsewhere for new money.
And has been widely reported, as money has sloshed into emerging markets and commodities, it s been yanked out of the U.S. and other developed market stocks. Three billion dollars was withdrawn from U.S. stock funds, the highest in five weeks, continuing a trend that has gone on for months.
Japanese funds were particularly hard hit. Money has fled the asset class for the 14th time in the past 15 weeks. Japan mutual and exchange-traded funds saw outflows from 2007 to 2009 of nearly 20% a year.
Guggenheim China Real Estate). Or emerging markets infrastructure? (Powershares Emerging Markets Infrastructure). Done. How about Brazilian Consumer Stocks? (Global X Brazil Consumer). No problem. Meanwhile, the number of Japan funds tracked by Morningstar has dropped from 26 a decade ago to only 16 today. No mad rush there.
When you look at the long term returns, it s not hard to imagine why. As discussed a few weeks back, the average Japanese stock fund tracked by Morningstar now boasts a 15-year total return of approximately -1.52%, among the world s worst.
There are no willing buyers of Japanese equities wrote Macquarie Research in a particularly bleak summer report. As one large asset manager recently told the Financial Times, Today it is more a case of trying to justify why there should be a larger allocation to Japan, and some international investors have given up trying.
Even Japan s own investment community has seemingly thrown in the towel. The country s Government Pension and Investment Fund, the world s largest pension fund, invests a mere 10.8% of its assets in its own country s stocks. Japanese households hold half their assets in cash and have reduced their equity exposure for the better part of ten years.
You might argue if the herd is present in gold and Brazil but I can promise you one thing they re not in Japan.
Unlike other risky assets, however, when it comes to Japan, most investors don t seem to give a damn about putting money into the theme. That doubt is a bullish sign.
At the time of writing, Hoenig s fund held positions in many of the securities mentioned. >