In run-up to Dubai debacle, investors poured into commodity funds

Mutual funds of global bonds, emerging-market equities and commodities enjoyed strong inflows in November.

Last week, Dubai World asked its bondholders for a six-month delay in payments. So far this week the plight of the government-linked developer has put Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and frontier markets in a pickle. But whether it has any impact on fund flows remains to be seen.

It was certainly unanticipated, because in the week ending November 25, the last day before the American Thanksgiving holiday, commodity sector funds took in over $1 billion for the second week in a row, according to EPFR Global.

Emerging-market equity funds also enjoyed strong inflows during November and are set to outperform inflows set at the height of the bull market in 2007. EPFR says EM funds have received year-to-date flows of $58.6 billion, compared to $54 billion in 2007.

The appetite for Asia is also on the rise. EPFR notes that throughout most of the year, flows to emerging markets have been allocated globally. November saw Asia ex-Japan equity funds take a decisive lead, thanks to China's strong third-quarter results. Asia-focused equity funds have taken yearly inflows of over $18 billion, with the final week of November registering $827 million just to China-focused products.

Brazil and Bric funds have also fared well.

Although these are impressive tallies for risk assets, investor appetite is actually bipolar. The biggest flows have in fact gone to fixed income, which has enjoyed year-to-date inflows of $157 billion, of which over $80 billion is to US bond funds. Short-term and inflation-protected funds gathered around half of these inflows, EPFR says. US, global and high-yield bond funds also attracted money from investors looking to earn returns while escaping market volatility.

Emerging-market bond funds have also enjoyed inflows, particularly those investing in local currencies, and collectively all fixed-income mutual funds collected a net $5.6 billion in the final week of November.

So, the higher risk assets and the very safe assets are attracting inflows. What's losing out is the middle ground. Developed-market equity funds and money-market funds continue to see net outflows this year. In fact, US equity and money-market funds are on track to set a new record for net redemptions. In 2008, investors redeemed $74.2 billion from US equity funds; by the end of November 2009, they had redeemed another $80 billion.

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