Extremely bearish signals intensify before Fed rate hike

Investors are extremely bearish for the short term, just before a crucial decision by the Federal Reserve on whether it would raise interest rates or not later this week.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s proprietary Bull/Bear indicator has fallen again close to “extremely bearish” territory, after having nudged out of it two weeks ago.

Of the six components of the indicator, one – market breadth – is very bearish, while only one – hedge fund positioning – is neutral.

The remaining four – bond flows, equity flows, credit market technicals and long only positioning – are all bearish.

Extremely bearish signal is back. Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Extremely bearish signal is back. Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Analysts at TrimTabs Investment Research say their own indicators haven’t changed dramatically during last week’s “carnage” in the markets. Their indicators are bearish for the short term but bullish for the longer term.

“US equity ETFs continue to draw steady inflows, which is a cautionary sign,” the analysts wrote in their weekly liquidity report.

US equity funds issued $2.4 billion in the past week, or 0.2% of assets. It was the 11th straight weekly inflow. The trailing one-month inflow of $14.2 billion is more than double the one-year average, representing 1.2% of assets.

One aspect that will be the focus of attention in the weeks to come is the drama unfolding in the high-yield debt field (also known as “junk” bonds).

TrimTabs Investment Research data show that high-yield bond ETFs lost $1.1 billion, or 3.2% of assets, in the past week, when prices fell 1.3%. These ETFs shed $550 million, or 1.6% of their assets, in the past month.

Data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch for the week that ended on December 9 show the biggest outflows from high-yield bond funds in 15 weeks, worth $3.8 billion in total.

Looking at the rest of the fixed-income universe, emerging market debt funds, which have seen outflows in 19 of the past 20 weeks, saw redemptions worth $1 billion in the same week.

Investment grade bond funds also saw $700 million pouring out, while bank loan funds had $500 million worth of redemptions.

In equities, US mutual funds saw $9.2 billion in redemptions, while emerging market equity funds lost another $1.7 billion in their sixth straight week of outflows.

By contrast, Europe saw its largest inflows in 14 weeks, worth $3.5 billion. That’s despite investors being disappointed by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who many believed was not dovish enough during his last news conference.

Japanese equities saw their largest inflows in six weeks, worth $600 million.