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US-based stock funds attract record US$36.5b inflows in week: Lipper

[NEW YORK] Investors in US-based funds poured US$36.5 billion into stock funds in the latest weekly period, marking the biggest inflows on record as US stocks surged to record highs, data from Thomson Reuters Lipper service showed on Friday.

The massive cash commitments for the week ended Dec 24 were the biggest since Lipper's records began in 1992. Investors pledged entirely to funds that specialize in US stocks, which attracted US$39 billion, while funds that invest in non-US shares posted US$2.5 billion in outflows.

The demand came from both retail and institutional investors, with stock mutual funds attracting US$12.8 billion and stock exchange-traded funds attracting US$23.7 billion. Mutual funds are commonly purchased by retail investors, while ETFs are thought to represent the behavior of institutional investors.

The inflows into stock mutual funds were the biggest since March 2000, while the inflows into stock ETFs were the biggest since March 2008. The overall inflows into stock funds follows US$17.9 billion in withdrawals the prior week, which were the biggest since February.

Funds that specialize in energy stocks attracted US$1.5 billion, their biggest inflows since September 2008, while funds that specialize in Japanese stocks posted US$1.5 billion in outflows, their biggest on record.

Taxable bond funds attracted US$6.1 billion, their biggest inflows in seven weeks but just a fraction of the inflows into riskier stock funds. Funds that hold investment-grade corporate bonds attracted US$2.6 billion after posting $80 million in outflows the prior week, which marked their first outflows since June.

Funds that specialize in emerging market shares posted US$990 million in outflows, their biggest withdrawals in 10 weeks. Low-risk money market funds, meanwhile, attracted US$17 billion, their biggest inflows in three weeks.

The inflows into stock funds came as the benchmark S&P 500 stock index rallied 3.4 percent and hit record closing highs on an unexpectedly strong report on U.S. economic growth and on the back of reassuring comments by the Federal Reserve on monetary policy. Year-end buying also boosted US shares.

The Dow hit record closing highs and ended above 18,000 for the first time over the period.

The Commerce Department's 5 percent final estimate of U.S. third-quarter economic growth, released Dec 23, indicated the quickest pace in over a decade.

"That took a lot of people by surprise, and translating that through the markets, it ought to make you a lot more positive on the equity side," said Jack Rivkin, chief investment officer at Altegris in La Jolla, California.

He also said investors have favored stocks heading into the year-end, given the recent upward momentum in US shares.

"You want that portfolio at the end of the year to look like you knew what you were doing for the whole quarter, and that's pushing more money into stocks." The S&P 500, which has risen about 13 per cent this year, has risen about 6 per cent in the fourth quarter.

The inflows into energy stock funds came as brent oil prices rebounded 5 per cent on Dec 19 in a recovery from near a 5-1/2-year low as investors squared books ahead of the end of the year, following a six-month slide.

The record outflows from Japanese stock funds, meanwhile, came despite Japan's recommitment to its massive economic stimulus campaign pushed Asian stocks to their best day in 15 months.

The weekly Lipper fund flow data is compiled from reports issued by US-domiciled mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.