By John McCrank

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Individual investors were major buyers on Thursday as stocks sold off over concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve would have to increase the size of interest rate hikes to tame inflation, which is running at a four-decade high.

Retail investors were net buyers of $2.6 billion worth of stocks and exchange traded funds on Thursday, according to Vanda Research. It was the highest level of net buys ever recorded by Vanda, whose data goes back to January 2014, the company said.

The top retail purchases during the selloff, which erased all of the gains from a relief rally on Wednesday when the Fed raised rates by 0.5%, were: the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, the Invesco QQQ Trust Series 1 ETF, and Apple Inc.

QQQ ETFs track the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index, which is down more than 21% year-to-date. Retail investors were divided on which direction it would head next.

The fourth most popular retail purchase on Thursday was the ProShares UltraPro QQQ ETF, which corresponds to three times (3X) the daily performance of the Nasdaq 100, while the sixth most popular pick was the ProShares UltraPro QQQ Short ETF, which is a 3X bet against the index.

The S&P 500 Index dropped 3.6% on Thursday, and is down around 13% year-to-date.

(Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)