Churning financial markets, as the failure of three U.S. banks and uncertainty over one big European one continues to play out, did not stop some investors from buying that so-called dip in the stock market at one point last week.
That’s according to a weekly report released Friday from Vanda Research, which said retail investors picked up $1.43 billion in underperforming financial and energy stocks, as well as some big-cap consumer tech names on Wednesday, following two weeks of sluggish action.
Amid concerns over the health of smaller lenders, they bought “unprecedented amounts” of too-big-to-fail banks, amounting to to nearly $1 billion of retail inflows to financials over the past five days. Vanda’s chart shows the last five day’s net purchases with financials standing out:
Marco Iachini, senior vice president, Giancomo Pierantoni, head of data and Lucas Mantle, data science analyst at Vanda, said Charles Schwab SCHW, -2.54% saw the second-most inflows following Bank of America over the past week.
“Some adventurers” were buying First Republic Bank , FRC, -32.80% PacWest Bancorp PACW, -18.95% and Truist Financials TFC, -7.23%, which they described as “riskier bets that could potentially offer massive upside” if systemic risk can be held at bay.
Stocks climbed Thursday after federal authorities organized major banks to infuse $30 billion into First Republic Bank FRC, -32.80% and stave off a fourth banking collapse, following the failures of Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank and Silvergate Bank over the past week . Credit Suisse shares CSGN, -8.01%, meanwhile tumbled 25% last week, shaking global markets at times amid worries for the Swiss banking giant’s own survival.
Yet the roller-coaster ride was back on Friday, with financials pressured and shares of First Republic tumbling anew after the bank suspended its dividend and disclosed higher borrowing costs. Some of the big banks involved in that deposit plan for the lender were also dropping, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM, -3.78%, Citigroup C, -3.00%, Bank of America BAC, -3.97% and Goldman Sachs GS, -3.67%.
For the week, the Dow fell 0.1%, the S&P 500 gained 1.4% and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 4.4%, according to Dow Jones Market Data,
Schwab shares lost 3.9% last week, during which at one point executives were assuring shareholders that the broker remained “well positioned.” CEO Walter Bettinger and other executives bought up nearly $7 million in shares during last week’s market turbulence.
The Vanda analysts said part of that equity sector rotation has likely been driven by profit-taking on the side of bond-themed exchange-traded funds (ETFs), with inflows into some of the largest of those falling $250 million over the past two weeks.
But it’s a delicate balance right now, with those investors only likely to keep buying stocks provided a “systemic crisis” can be avoided, said Vanda analysts.
Uncertainty about the Fed’s interest rate path has caused bond yields to be volatile in the past week, sending the ICE BofAML MOVE Index to its highest level since the 2008 financial crisis as of Wednesday.
Investors pulled $8.8 billion flow out of prime money-market funds at Schwab last week, putting it into the broker’s government and Treasury funds amid ongoing nervousness over whether more shoes will drop in the banking crisis, Bloomberg reported, citing company data.
Vanda said the energy sector also saw surging inflows after Tuesday’s market slump, though the analysts said those aren’t the stocks that tend to draw loyalty from traders, therefore if a surge in dip-buying doesn’t turn that momentum around, more traders could dump those shares.
Haunted by the ghosts of late 2018 and the 2008 financial crisis, retail investors are in a fragile situation, said the Vanda analysts.
They noted that capitulation for investors in 2018 came in the fourth quarter, “when the equity market began to free fall after a prolonged range bound period amid mixed Fed commentary.” The S&P 500 index slid over 9% in December 2018 amid concerns over Fed tightening, an economic slowdown and U.S.-China trade tensions.
Markets are bracing for next week’s Federal Reserve policy meeting. In fed funds futures traders now see a 75.3% chance of a 25 basis point rate hike next Wednesday, owing to inflation worries. That as banking stress hovers in the background.
“We also believe that fears of ‘systemic risk’ related to the banking sector are more emotionally destabilizing for unsophisticated investors than any marginal selloffs caused by Fed interest rate hikes or events outside the U.S.,” said Vanda analysts.
“We remain on watch as we could see increased volatility in flows over the coming weeks, particularly if retail traders panic and begin moving more of their assets into money-market funds.”
Such funds are perceived as safer because the investments are focused on lower-risk areas such as cash and securities that behave like cash, such as CDs and Treasury bills.
One stock that isn’t getting any dip-buying love they note is Tesla TSLA, -2.17%, which continues to underperform the broader market since a disappointing Investor Day earlier this month, said the Vanda team. Tesla shares have lost 13% this month, versus a 1.3% gain for the Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.74%.
“We believe that in this environment, TSLA could continue lagging as investors now have the opportunity to pick from other familiar pockets of the stock market that have recently been battered, like energy or financials,” they said.