March Flash Flows: A Lot of Crooked Numbers


Head of SPDR Americas Research

With rates rising, bonds posted their worst quarterly return (-6%) since 1980. Stocks didn’t do any better: even after the March rally, Q1 returns were -5%. ETFs, however, continue to take in assets, side-stepping the current market volatility, as fund flows in March were the third-most ever, totaling $93 billion.

In baseball, the phrase “a crooked number” refers to a number other than zero or one being scored. When a team scores two or more runs in an inning, it is said that they have “hung a crooked number” on the scoreboard — and the pitcher.

This isn’t a good thing if you are that pitcher, or fan of the team. A few innings in a row with crooked numbers going up on the scoreboard and the pitcher hits the showers early and fans might head for the exit.

Global capital markets definitely had a crooked number hung on them this quarter. Global equities fell 14% through the first 9 weeks of the quarter, only to rally in the past three weeks — trimming the decline for the quarter to -5.3%.1

Stocks fell the same amount as bonds in the quarter. Yet, given bonds shouldn’t have such severe declines, it felt like bond portfolios had the same type of crooked number hung on them as the Washington Nationals did in the eighth inning of a recent spring training game. The Nats gave up 15 runs in that one inning.

Nevertheless, flow totals illustrate that investors remain undeterred and continue to allocate capital at elevated rates. Yet, there were areas where there was more conviction than others — a by-product of our uncertain market environment.

Another $90 Billion Here, Another $90 Billion There

Fund flows in March were the third-most ever, totaling $93 billion. This is now the fifth time in the last two years where flows have been above the $90 billion mark. The flows in March were also 50% of the overall $195 billion first quarter flows.

The most conviction was expressed within equities, and namely US equities. Equity funds took in 70% of all flows in March, with US exposures taking in 88% of all equity flows. The latter is well above the market share of assets, as US funds only comprise 78% equity assets. Inexplicably, emerging market (EM) funds posted the second-most flows (+$6 billion) last month out of any geographic region — and their sixth-most all time. The flows on the quarter were also the second-most as a percent of start-of-year assets.

Now, given the fungibility and flexibility of the ETF structure, some of these flows could be tied to short positions as well as bearish option trades — a reason why flows analysis needs to be multi-dimensional. And we have seen short interest rise on the segment in 2022 as the market has fallen and remained under pressure given the Russia-Ukraine War as well as the downbeat performance from China (-14.2%).

Asset Class Flows

Asset Class Flows

While those equity figures are sizable, there were other areas that went parabolic. With volatility elevated, inflation rising, and commodities posting their best quarter since 1990,2 broad-commodity and gold ETFs each took in their third-most ever for a month (+$2 and +$6 billion, respectively).

For broad-commodity exposures, as shown below, this pushed their trailing three – month fund flow total to its highest ever. Gold, while not at all-time highs, has its trailing three-month flow figures sitting at their eighth highest. Given the inflation and volatility dynamics present in the market, these figures are likely to remain elevated.

Click here to read the full article


1Bloomberg Finance L.P. as of March 31, 2022 based on the return of MSCI ACWI Index.
2Bloomberg Finance L.P. as of March 31, 2022 based on the return of Bloomberg Commodity Index.
3Bloomberg Finance L.P. as of March 31, 2022. Based on the return of the Energy sector returns of the S&P 500 Index.
4Bloomberg Finance L.P. as of March 31, 2022. Based on the return of the Bloomberg US Treasury Inflation Index and the Bloomberg US Treasury Index.
5Bloomberg Finance L.P. as of March 31, 2022. Based on the return of the ICE BoFAML US High Yield Index and the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index.
6Bloomberg Finance L.P. as of March 31, 2022. Based on the return of the ICE BoFAML US High Yield Index.
7FactSet as of March 31, 2022 based on the S&P 500 Index.


Bloomberg US Treasury Inflation-Linked Bond Index
Measures the performance of the US Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) market.

Bloomberg US Treasury Index
Measures US dollar-denominated, fixed-rate, nominal debt issued by the US Treasury.

A measure of implied market volatility on the S&P 500.

ICE BofA US High Yield Index
The ICE BofA US High Yield Index tracks the performance of US dollar denominated below investment grade corporate debt publicly issued in the US domestic market.

MOVE Index
A measure of bond market implied volaitlity.

A market-capitalization-weighted stock market index that measures the stock performance of the companies in developed and emerging markets.

MSCI Emerging Markets Index
A market-capitalization-weighted stock market index that measures the stock performance of the companies in emerging markets.

S&P 500® Index
A market-capitalization-weighted stock market index that measures the stock performance of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the United States.

S&P/LSTA Leverage Loan Index
A market value-weighted index designed to measure the performance of the U.S. leveraged loan market based upon market weightings, spreads and interest payments.

Originally Posted April 6, 2022 – March Flash Flows: A Lot of Crooked Numbers

The views expressed in this material are the views of the SPDR Research and Strategy team and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. It should not be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell any security. It does not take into account any investor’s particular investment objectives, strategies, tax status or investment horizon. There is no representation or warranty as to the current accuracy of such information, nor liability for decisions based on such information. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Unless otherwise noted, all data and statistical information were obtained from Bloomberg LP and SSGA as of March 31, 2022. Data in tables have been rounded to whole numbers, except for percentages, which have been rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent.

The research and analysis included in this document have been produced by SSGA for its own investment management activities and are made available here incidentally. Information obtained from external sources is believed to be reliable and is as of the date of publication but is subject to change. This information must not be used in any jurisdiction where prohibited by law and must not be used in a way that would be contrary to local law or legislation. No investment advice, tax advice, or legal advice is provided herein.

Investing involves risk including the risk of loss of principal.

Bonds generally present less short-term risk and volatility than stocks, but contain interest rate risk (as interest rates raise, bond prices usually fall); issuer default risk; issuer credit risk; liquidity risk; and inflation risk. These effects are usually pronounced for longer-term securities. Any fixed income security sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to a substantial gain or loss.

Equity securities may fluctuate in value in response to the activities of individual companies and general market and economic conditions.

Concentrated investments in a particular sector or industry tend to be more volatile than the overall market and increases risk that events negatively affecting such sectors or industries could reduce returns, potentially causing the value of the Fund’s shares to decrease.

The whole or any part of this work may not be reproduced, copied or transmitted or any of its contents disclosed to third parties without SSGA’s express written consent.

Disclosure: Interactive Brokers

Information posted on IBKR Traders’ Insight that is provided by third-parties and not by Interactive Brokers does NOT constitute a recommendation by Interactive Brokers that you should contract for the services of that third party. Third-party participants who contribute to IBKR Traders’ Insight are independent of Interactive Brokers and Interactive Brokers does not make any representations or warranties concerning the services offered, their past or future performance, or the accuracy of the information provided by the third party. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

This material is from State Street Global Advisors and is being posted with permission from State Street Global Advisors. The views expressed in this material are solely those of the author and/or State Street Global Advisors and IBKR is not endorsing or recommending any investment or trading discussed in the material. This material is not and should not be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any security. To the extent that this material discusses general market activity, industry or sector trends or other broad based economic or political conditions, it should not be construed as research or investment advice. To the extent that it includes references to specific securities, commodities, currencies, or other instruments, those references do not constitute a recommendation to buy, sell or hold such security. This material does not and is not intended to take into account the particular financial conditions, investment objectives or requirements of individual customers. Before acting on this material, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, as necessary, seek professional advice.

In accordance with EU regulation: The statements in this document shall not be considered as an objective or independent explanation of the matters. Please note that this document (a) has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research, and (b) is not subject to any prohibition on dealing ahead of the dissemination or publication of investment research.

Any trading symbols displayed are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to portray recommendations.

Disclosure: Futures Trading

Futures are not suitable for all investors. The amount you may lose may be greater than your initial investment. Before trading futures, please read the CFTC Risk Disclosure. A copy and additional information are available at