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BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey Finds Investors Selectively Lowering Risk After Bond Sell-off

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Global investors have less appetite for higher risk exposures, particularly in the U.S., according to the BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey for May.

While a net 47 percent of respondents remain overweight equities, this is down seven percentage points month-on-month. Appetite for U.S. stocks has declined to a net 19 percent underweight, in contrast to strong overweights across 1Q. Confidence in corporate profitability has also fallen, with only 7 percent of investors viewing the U.S. as the region with the most favorable earnings outlook. Long U.S. dollar remains investment markets’ most crowded trade, in fund managers’ view. However, the survey’s 41 percent reading on this measure has fallen sharply from last month.

At the same time, overweight cash positions have risen sharply. This month’s reading of a net 23 percent is the survey’s highest since December 2014.

These shifts follow the recent aggressive sell-off in bond markets. The survey shows a strong rise in panelists’ assessment of bonds as the asset class most vulnerable to volatility in 2015 – up to 56 percent. Bond underweights have also increased.

Investors’ macroeconomic views have changed little since last month. A net 59 percent still expect the global economy to strengthen this year, though forecasts of corporate profitability have fallen a little. Seventy percent of respondents see both growth and inflation remaining below historical trends over the next 12 months.

They are increasingly divided over the timing of a U.S. rate rise, however. Almost as many now see this in 4Q as in 3Q – 36 percent versus 45 percent, respectively.

“There is no loss of faith in economic recovery, and positioning still assumes that the U.S. dollar goes up, but doubts are creeping in – hence this jump in allocation to cash,” said Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research. “Investors are keeping faith with European stocks for now, but this remains biased towards currency plays,” said James Barty, head of European equity strategy.

Europe and Japan still preferred

In contrast to their reduced conviction towards U.S. equities, which a net 39 percent now intend to underweight over the next year, investors remain positive on both Europe and Japan – both economies where quantitative easing continues. A respective net 49 and 42 percent of fund managers are overweight the two markets.

Europe also remains the market most would like to overweight from a 12-month perspective. A net 33 percent still take this position, although this is now down as much as 30 percentage points from March’s very strong reading.

A net 18 percent make Japan their top pick for the coming year. This is a slight decline from last month.

At the same time, fund managers are less negative on emerging markets. Only a net 6 percent are now underweight, compared to April’s net 18 percent. Intention to own emerging markets stocks over the next year has risen similarly.

U.K. picks up

Britain’s recent decisive election result is reflected in investors’ more positive stance on U.K. assets. Global investors have halved their equity underweights month-on-month, while a net 3 percent of European fund managers now intend to overweight the U.K. market over the next 12 months. Last month, a net 50 percent said they would underweight it over this time period.

Similarly, views of sterling as overvalued have fallen notably. Only a net 8 percent of global fund managers now take this stance, compared to April’s net 15 percent.

Currency correlation

Investors’ stance on the major currencies correlates with their equity positioning. A net 69 percent expect the U.S. dollar to appreciate over the next 12 months. This is up slightly from April’s reading. In contrast, a net 32 and 35 percent expect the euro and yen to decline. Yen bearishness has risen by 16 percentage points since March.

Bullishness on oil has fallen, meanwhile. Fewer than half of fund managers now expect the commodity to trade at a higher price in 12 months’ time. This is down significantly from April and March’s reading of 64 percent.

Fund Manager Survey
An overall total of 208 panelists with US$607 billion of assets under management participated in the survey from 8 May to 14 May 2015. A total of 169 managers, managing US$479 billion, participated in the global survey. A total of 94 managers, managing US$224 billion, participated in the regional surveys. The survey was conducted by BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research with the help of market research company TNS. Through its international network in more than 50 countries, TNS provides market information services in over 80 countries to national and multi-national organizations. It is ranked as the fourth-largest market information group in the world.

BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research
The BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research franchise covers over 3,400 stocks and 1,100 credits globally and ranks in the top tier in many external surveys. Most recently, the group was named Top Global Research Firm of 2014 by Institutional Investor magazine; No. 1 in the 2015 Institutional Investor All-Europe Fixed Income Research survey; No. 1 in the 2014 Institutional Investor All-Europe survey; No. 1 in the Institutional Investor 2014 Emerging EMEA Survey; No. 2 in the 2015 Institutional Investor All-Asia survey; and No. 2 in the 2014 Institutional Investor All-America survey. The group was also named No. 2 in the 2015 All-China survey and No. 2 in the 2014 All-America Fixed Income survey for the third consecutive year.

Bank of America
Bank of America is one of the world’s largest financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small and middle-market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services. The company provides unmatched convenience in the United States, serving approximately 48 million consumer and small business relationships with approximately 4,800 retail financial centers and approximately 15,900 ATMs and award-winning online banking with 31 million active users and approximately 17 million mobile users. Bank of America is among the world’s leading wealth management companies and is a global leader in corporate and investment banking and trading across a broad range of asset classes, serving corporations, governments, institutions and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to approximately 3 million small business owners through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients through operations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and more than 35 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock (NYSE:BAC) is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch is the marketing name for the global banking and global markets businesses of Bank of America Corporation. Lending, derivatives, and other commercial banking activities are performed globally by banking affiliates of Bank of America Corporation, including Bank of America, N.A., member FDIC. Securities, strategic advisory, and other investment banking activities are performed globally by investment banking affiliates of Bank of America Corporation (“Investment Banking Affiliates”), including, in the United States, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated, which is a registered broker-dealer and a member of FINRA and SIPC, and, in other jurisdictions, locally registered entities. Investment products offered by Investment Banking Affiliates: Are Not FDIC Insured * May Lose Value * Are Not Bank Guaranteed.

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