Following Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. debt during the week of August 10th, investors pulled $40.3 billion out of long-term mutual funds of all types, according to the Investment Company Institute (ICI). Put in perspective, the outflow of $40.3 billion was roughly 25 percent more than was pulled out in the previous four weeks combined and more than double the $17.0 billion pulled out the previous week. Since, May 1, according to the ICI, investors have pulled out more than $85 billion.
The extreme volatility of the last few weeks not withstanding, the economic recovery continues to follow an atypical course. Generally, the more significant a market downturn is, the stronger the rebound. Yet, although the economy contracted about 4% during the “Great Recession,” the worst since the Great Depression, this recovery has been lackluster. In fact, growth is running at about half the expected speed due to tight credit conditions, a depressed housing market and a pervasive lack of consumer and corporate confidence. Unsure whether better days are around the corner or further down the road, investors have been focused on capital preservation and the search for decent yield.
If the “Super Congress” makes essential budget cuts and positive signs like strong corporate earnings and robust exports continue, we’ll see a real improvement in investors’ confidence. That optimism will move steadily from Main Street to Wall Street and give our recovery the boost it needs. In the meantime, diversification and investment discipline will continue to be the best policy in this environment.