Federal Reserve flow of funds accounts for Q1 2006 show the degree to which equity investments have fallen out of favor with individual investors.

Flow table F100 (Households) reports annual rates of net direct sales of equities by individuals of $866.5 billion, an all-time high.

This selling is interpreted as reflecting executives exercising stock options in a massive transfer of corporate wealth to favored insiders through buybacks.

On the other hand, net purchases of equities by individuals via mutual funds — for many years a pillar of the stock market — was only $205.1 billion in Q1 2006 (annual rate).

This means that net disinvestment in equities by individuals was $670.9 billion (annual rate) in Q1 2006 — a record!

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Net repurchases of equity by nonfinancial domestic corporations soared to an annual rate of $586.8 billion in Q1 2006 (a new record), pushing stock prices slightly higher.

This frenzied buying was five times the buyback rate in 2000, the year the Great Bubble collapsed!

Corporate executives were aided significantly in their efforts to use buybacks to boost stock prices, by unsophisticated investors acquiring stocks through mutual funds ($205.1 billion) and by direct purchases of equities by foreign investors ($226.8 billion) [net annual rates].

Option Exercisers and Foreign Issuers Are Sellers

Almost matching the frantic stock buying by corporations, mutual funds, and foreign investors, were new records of stock sales by individuals ($866.5 billion) and foreign issuers ($172 billion) [annual rates].

Most sales by individuals were related to the exercise of stock options, representing an enormous transfer of wealth from corporations to executives and insiders, to the detriment of long-term investors holding equities in tax-deferred savings plans through mutual funds.

Despite the negative features of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and higher costs of going public in the U.S. market, foreign issuers seemed to have a clearer notion of where money could be put to use than their overpaid American counterparts. Foreign corporate issuers could not resist the low costs of capital occasioned by the buyback pressure on stock prices.

Similarities to 2000

Just as was seen at the peak of the Great Bubble, the ’smart institutions’ (property and casualty insurers, private pension funds, and state and local government retirement funds) were net sellers of equities.

The pattern of transactions between the players in the equity market in Q1 2006 was similar to that of the year 2000 when the bubble of the 1990s came to an end.

See Case Study on the Great Bubble of 2000.


On April 26, 2020 at the Milken Institute in Los Angeles, California, at the Milken Institute Global Conference for 2006, the topic “Baby Boom — Baby Bomb?” was debated by Michael Milken, Chairman of the Institute, and Professor Jeremy Siegel, of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. The debate was moderated by Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal.

This debate was of such significance as to be featured in BusinessWeek on June 5, 2020, in the article, “When Boomers Cash Out: A buy-and-hold legend sees tough times ahead.”

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