By Claire Milhench
LONDON (Reuters) - Equity funds attracted $6.5 billion of inflows this week, the first inflows into global stocks in a month, as investors returned to U.S. markets and continued to pile into emerging assets, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) said on Friday.
Emerging debt funds extended their bull run, pulling in $1.6 billion in the week to Wednesday, as investors frustrated with the zero or negative interest rates on offer in developed government bond markets hunted for returns.
The swing into global equities was driven by investors moving into exchange-traded funds (ETFs), where inflows of $10 billion more than offset the $3.5 billion that fled mutual funds.
"Sentiment (is) getting more bullish but not yet at an extreme," BAML's global strategy team, led by Michael Hartnett in New York, said in a note to clients.
The biggest beneficiaries of the rise in risk appetite were U.S. stocks, which attracted $4.9 billion - the first inflow in four weeks. Japan attracted $1.6 billion, the largest inflows since January 2016, and emerging equities absorbed $1.3 billion, their sixth straight week of inflows.
The U.S. stock market <.SPX> is up almost 7 percent year-to-date, hitting record highs again this week. Emerging equities <.MSCIEF> however have surged 14.5 percent after three years of losses.
But Japan's Nikkei <.N225> is down 11 percent year-to-date.
BAML said investors were taking profits in the traditional "defensive" sectors of consumer staples, telecoms and utilities and turning to cyclical plays in more economically sensitive sectors.
Financials enjoyed their largest four-week inflows in eight months with $1.2 billion, whilst tech stocks have seen their largest inflows in four months with $500 million.
Fixed income investors showed a preference for the riskier end of the spectrum over safe-haven, low-return government bonds.
Emerging bond funds have now taken $18 billion over six weeks - the largest on record, and equivalent to 6 percent of assets under management - in what BAML described as an "EM melt up".
Even markets such as Malaysia, tainted by the 1MDB scandal, are pulling in cash as interest rates fall in Britain, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
High yield bond funds attracted $1.7 billion and investment grade bond funds pulled in $5.3 billion. Government and Treasury bond funds suffered $800 million in outflows, racking up five straight weeks of redemptions.
Investors also dumped money market funds, withdrawing $3.6 billion, the largest outflows in seven weeks.
(Reporting Claire Milhench)