Billions of dollars bail on stocks and buy bonds

The trend this year is clear: Stocks are out, and bonds are in.

The 10 exchange-traded funds that have suffered the biggest outflows this year are all equity funds of some shape or form, according to data.

The biggest losers are WisdomTree's once-hot currency-hedged Japan and Europe products, with $2.7 billion and $2.3 billion worth of net outflows, respectively. Products tied to financial stocks (XLF), big Nasdaq names (QQQ), and biotech (FBT) also saw redemptions of more than $1 billion.

Fund Name
Net Flows Year-to-Date
DXJ WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity -2,712.73
HEDJ WisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity -2,316.57
IWF iShares Russell 1000 Growth -2,021.61
XLF Financial Select SPDR -1,887.63
QQQ PowerShares QQQ -1,869.56
FBT First Trust NYSE Arca Biotechnology -1,766.29
EWJ iShares MSCI Japan -1,573.30
FXH First Trust Health Care AlphaDEX -1,444.72
EZU iShares MSCI Eurozone -1,344.10
FDN First Trust Dow Jones Internet -1,302.76

Meanwhile, six of the 10 biggest recipients of inflows are bond products from across the spectrum, with everything from Treasurys to high-yield bonds attractive fresh cash.

Topping the list of creations is the SPDR Gold ETF (GLD), and rounding out the list are two Vanguard equity ETFs (VOO and VEA) that have managed to attract inflows.

Fund Name
Net Flows Year-to-Date
GLD SPDR Gold 4,962.25
AGG iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond 3,611.35
USMV iShares MSCI USA Minimum Volatility 3,496.86
VOO Vanguard S&P 500 2,900.25
TLT iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond 2,460.52
JNK SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond 2,449.48
VEA Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets 2,276.88
LQD iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond 2,068.71
TIP iShares TIPS Bond 1,807.86
HYG iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond 1,655.30

More recently, the character of the flows have shifted a bit, as stocks have turned higher.

Since the start of March, the S&P 500 ETF (SPY) and iShares Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) have managed to drive $4.9 billion and $2.1 billion in net creations, respectively. Still, five of the 10 ETFs that have seen the largest net inflows have been bond funds, even in this more recent time period.

Based on Lipper data, "funds have been flowing into equities at a pretty meaningful rate, and it looks like there has been cash coming off of the sidelines" in the past few weeks, Piper Jaffray technical analyst Craig Johnson said Wednesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."

Looking at the chart of the S&P 500, "there is no change in trend," so these flows into stocks are "probably going to continue," he said.

Indeed, with so many being left behind by the market's recent bounce, "the pain trade is up," meaning that a further rise in stocks will cause the sort of uncomfortable losses that lead fund managers to change around their positioning. In this case, that shift would mean covering shorts or going long.

"It's going to be even more painful when we break out to new highs," the bullish technical analyst added.


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Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

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