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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Typically, stocks rise because investors are buying them, increasing prices. But that's not what's happening in 2019.

What's new: U.S. equity prices are soaring to record highs, with the S&P 500 up 17% and the Nasdaq up 21% in just 4 months. But not only are investors not buying, they're selling.

The big picture: Stock funds have seen $4 billion of outflows so far in 2019, surpassing the $2.9 billion of outflows for all of 2018 when the S&P fell by 6%. This year's outflows included a drawdown of nearly $11 billion in just the month of March, according to data from Lipper, which tracks $49.1 trillion in assets globally.

What's happening: The strange phenomenon can partially be explained by investors moving away from traditional mutual funds at a historic pace, particularly in U.S. stock funds.

  • "The negative investor sentiment about domestic equity mutual funds has been a long-term trend," Pat Keon, senior research analyst at Lipper, tells Axios. "The net outflows for this group have been worse over the last several years than even during the global financial crisis."

But that's only part of the story. Investors also are clearly wary of the historic stock rally, now pushing toward an 11-year bull run, and are nervous about global growth slowing. Equity funds have seen 11 straight weeks of net outflows, Lipper's data shows.

  • Safe-haven fixed income funds, on the other hand, have seen $107.7 billion of inflows year to date.

The intrigue: The bond market is reflecting this worry, but stocks so far have not, largely because of company buybacks and low volumes, analysts say.

  • U.S. companies have purchased $272 billion of their own shares so far this year, on pace to break 2018's record $1.085 trillion.
  • There also have been less transactions overall, says Jim Paulsen, chief economist at the Leuthold Group, opening up the market to bigger price moves. That's allowing small buys to have big impacts.

The bottom line: The "Twilight Zone" state of affairs may actually be good news for stocks because it means investors aren't overconfident, say analysts at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. In fact, sentiment is historically low, according to the bank's consensus indicator.

  • "Historically, when our indicator has been this low or lower, total returns over the subsequent 12 months have been positive 92% of the time, with median 12-month returns of 18%," BAML analysts said in a note to clients.

But, but, but: It may just mean the stock market is pumped full of hot air.

Go deeper: Investors are selling stocks, but the market keeps rising

Go deeper

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 28 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.