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Investors pulled a 'remarkable' $40 billion from U.S. stocks since mid-March

A wave of selling hit U.S. equity funds at the end of March. Trader Peter Tuchman, center, stands on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Investors pulled a “remarkable” $40 billion from U.S. equity market funds in the closing weeks of March, a new survey from the Institute of International Finance, citing data from EPFR, found.

The organization, which works with banks and financial institutions around the globe, said trade tensions, increased deficit spending by the United States and higher U.S. interest rates from the Federal Reserve may all have been factors in a swing in sentiment that caused investors to pull funds out of the market.

The exodus from U.S. funds weighed heavily on the global appetite for stocks, as world equities saw just $10 billion of inflows during the month. That came despite a record $45 billion of weekly funds flowing into stocks during the early part of the month.

“Regardless of the trigger — trade tensions, the prospect of a higher U.S. fiscal deficit, Fed tightening — heightened market volatility and swings in risk appetite have had a big impact on fund flows in recent weeks,” the IIF said in a statement accompanying the data.

Emerging markets also recorded lower levels of fund outflows, suggesting the investor panic was largely concentrated on the U.S. assets.

EM equities saw reduced inflows of $7 billion in March, compared to $11 billion in February and $28 billion in January.

“The main driver of recent big swings has been the surge and abrupt reversal in flows to U.S. equity funds,” IIF said in its statement. “Since mid- March, U.S. equity funds have seen a remarkable $40 billion in outflows—entirely wiping out the strong inflows of $25 billion seen in the first half of the month.”

IIF also reported that there was greater selling of U.S. equities via ETFs in March, where mainly retail inflows have tended to offset outflows from largely institutional mutual funds over the past year or so.

Bonds also saw subdued fund flows in March, according to IIF’s data. Despite a late-March bond market rebound, global bond funds took in just $2 billion. All in all, global equity and bond funds combined saw just $12 billion of inflows for the month.

Dion Rabouin is a financial markets reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @DionRabouin.

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