Australians are jumping into the sharemarket at the moment with both feet. This is where they're investing.

Jack Derwin
  • Investors have been flooding back into the stock market amid enormous volatility.
  • Funds like Betashares and brokerage platforms like CMC Markets told Business Insider Australia they've seen triple the number of trades through March and into April.
  • From buying undervalued blue-chips to simply speculating on the fortunes or woes of hard-hit companies, Australians are investing far and wide during the economic crisis.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

If volatility was sound, sharemarkets would surely have been at a crescendo in recent weeks.

At the end of February, global markets took a running leap off their record peaks, free falling in the fastest bear market on record.

However, while long-term investors may have lost a motza overnight, market turmoil has created some of the best buying opportunities seen in decades.

"Investors [are looking] to capitalise on trading opportunities thrown up by volatility and cheaper stock prices after the ASX posted first-quarter declines not seen since the '87 crash," Saxo market strategist Eleanor Creagh told Business Insider Australia.

It shows, with major brokering platforms and funds alike seeing investor activity treble.

"We've seen significant net flows into Aussie equities which is essentially explained as people buying the dip," Betashares CEO Alex Vynokur said, noting March investment was triple last year's monthly average. "There's been 16 times as much money being rotated out of cash and fixed income and into equities."

But as Australians heap money into a fallen market, where is the money flowing?

Discounted blue chip stocks

Household names like BHP are commonly referred to as blue-chip stocks. They're the companies that are nationally recognisable, well-established and tend to weather most storms.

It's perhaps no surprise that these been some of the first stocks that Australians have been snapping up as the market tanks.

"There's been a lot of value investing going on in recent weeks as investors look for companies they can put their confidence in," CMC Markets head of sales trading Ash Glover said. "A lot of people have been buying those blue chips like banks and retailers that have been hit really hard by the current environment."

The big four banks and Macquarie all rank in the top 12 companies being bought up, according to stock tracking tool Sharesight, alongside resource company Woodside Petroleum, telco Telstra and blood products giant CSL.

Entire indexes

Then there are those simply content to put their faith in the market as a whole, on the assumption that they will again rise from the ashes.

Dramatic daily swings have seen many rush into index funds which track whole stockmarkets and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) which track bundles of securities.

According to Sharesight, by far and away the most popular investment has been in the Australian index, with Vanguard's fund coming in at the number one spot, while Betashares' version also ranked. It's a trend that's being seen across the board, according to Creagh.

"Trading in single stocks was less popular throughout March relative to February with clients choosing to trade equity indices more broadly," she said, noting US and Italian markets had seen the biggest surge, seeing five and 100 times more trades respectively.

Gold miners, supermarkets, and opportunity plays

While value investors are buying what appears cheap today, there's also those buying stocks that could benefit tomorrow from the current crisis. Some have then looked to gold, at near-record highs and helped along by a flying US dollar, as a safe haven.

"There's been a lot of thematic investing where people are buying those stocks they think will profit or do well during the coronavirus crisis," Glover said. "Gold as a physical commodity is soaring so people are buying good quality gold stocks. They're also buying retailers that are doing solid trading at the moment, including Coles and Woolworths as well as Wesfarmers which owns Bunnings."

"You've also got Ansell, which most people know for contraceptives, but also makes rubber gloves and other safety devices. While they've primarily been in hospitals, households are of course buying those up as well right now."

Speculative stocks

There are other more speculative investments being made with the hope that a company might be oversold and primed for a quick bounce as the market gets jumpy.

"Something I've seen more recently is people jumping on potential short-term plays. Hard-hit companies like Qantas, Virgin, and Sydney Airport, as some people speculate about when flights are going to come back and how hard they'll come back," Glover said.

"You see the same thing with travel agents like Webjet and Flight Centre as they go through capital raising at the moment, with investors essentially betting on how successful those rounds will be."

Buy now pay later company Afterpay has proved another hotly traded stock. Having been heavily sold off at the start of March, its stock price floundered at less than $8 a share before roaring back to life to trade for three times that.

As Saudi Arabia and Russia, two of the world's largest oil producers, go tit for tat and flood the market with cheap oil, there's also been plenty of investors willing to take advantage of that too.

"While the vast majority of people are long-term investors, there is a strong cohort who trade around volatility and with things like the oil sell-off, the opportunities are really significant for those people," Vynokur said, noting energy companies were being traded at around 20 times their 2019 levels.

Betting against the stockmarket

One of the most marked differences in how people are trading in this environment as opposed to more normal conditions has been a surge of betting on when the market will bottom.

Betashares, for example, has three different bear funds, designed to move inversely to where the broader stock market goes, for the ASX as well as the S&P 500 in the US.

"Those funds have more tripled in terms of funds under management since the beginning of the year, growing from around $200 million to over $750 million. It's been nothing short of astounding," Vynokur said.

To put that in perspective, some days Betashares alone has seen more than $160 million being bet against the ASX in a single day, making the funds more active than telco giant Telstra, for example.

"[Trading on those] is at an all-time high so it absolutely means people are still betting the market will get worse before it gets better," he said. "It also means nervous investors are looking to hedge their bets and protect their wealth."

And why wouldn't they? With it not being uncommon for entire markets to swing by double digits, there are fortunes to be made and lost in the blink of an eye.

Disclaimer: This article contains general information only and is not intended to be used as personal advice.