Investors Flood Safe Haven ETFs

January 21, 2016

The January bloodbath on Wall Street continued this week, sending stock markets spiraling ever lower. At one point in Wednesday’s session, the S&P 500 touched 1,812―a notable 15.1% below its all-time high and its lowest level since February 2014―before bargain buyers sent the index up 50 points by the end of the day and another 20 points or so on Thursday morning.

The small-cap Russell 2000 did even worse, reaching 958, its lowest since June 2013. With 2 1/2 years of gains wiped out and down 26% from its highs, some brave investors waded in, sending the index into the green by the end of the session.

Market analysts are split on whether Wednesday's price action represents the ultimate capitulation or selling exhaustion that leads to a bottom in the market―or whether it was merely a pause in a larger bear market.

Billions Flow Into Treasury ETFs

In any case, some investors are taking no chances as they batten down the hatches and flood into the safest of assets to ride out the storm.

The ultimate safe havens are, of course, U.S. Treasury bonds. At a time in which risky, corporate junk bonds are plunging precipitously on oil- and economy-related woes, the risk-free Treasury looks attractive to these investors.

Treasury ETFs are among the biggest asset gainers so far this year, taking up three of the top five spots on the 2016 fund flows list.

The iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT | A-83) saw inflows of more than $1 billion so far this year, while the iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond ETF (IEF | A-55) and the iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (SHY | A-97) followed closely behind, with inflows of $828 million and $710 million, respectively.

Performance Strong In 2016

Performancewise, these ETFs have delivered. Yields on U.S. government bonds, which move inversely with prices, have dropped across the board.

The 30-year yield fell from 3.02% to as low as 2.71% on Wednesday. The 10-year fell from 2.27% to 1.94%, and the two-year fell from 1.05% to 0.79%.

U.S. 10-Year Bond Yield

For the ETFs mentioned, that translates into gains from 0.5% to 5.1% for the year so far, as can be seen on the chart below:

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