Flows into U.S. open-end funds grew overall in July, to $14.1 billion, from $13.5 billion, according to numbers from the Morningstar research firm. But within that increase were mixed messages regarding investors' risk appetite.
For instance, equity funds lost $12.4 billion; taxable bonds picked up $22.3 billion, and municipal bonds nearly doubled, to $3.9 billion.
The mix suggested that risk aversion is a dominant theme, Morningstar said. But the fund tracker then noted that a closer look showed that balanced funds, usually considered a moderate-allocation category, "took the brunt of this development, with nearly $2.1 billion in outflows."
And in a broader trend that suggested investors were not seeking to avoid risk, alternative investments and commodity funds surged.
Alternatives took in about $1.7 billion, and commodity funds increased $923 million.
Also in July, diversified emerging-market stock funds took in nearly $2 billion, and the three major foreign-stock categories had aggregate outflows of $624 million, Morningstar said in a release on Wednesday.
It was unclear how much of the money movements were real structural shifts and how much were simply chasing performance. But because of the emerging markets' lower debt-to-GDP ratios, they may be viewed by some as safe havens from the developed countries.
If so, that's a "stunning reversal in investor attitude," Morningstar said in its release. Either way, there appeared to be a "re-rating of risks in the emerging markets," said Kevin McDevitt, editorial director at Morningstar.
One final twist: The money pulled from equity mutual funds was not wholly removed form the stock market. About $6.8 billion of it was plowed into exchange-traded funds. So this much of the movement was at least partly a way to mitigate "manager risk."