BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey Finds Investors Migrating out of U.S. Equities Amid Expectations of Fed Rate Hike

Preference for European Equities at Record High

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 8:30 am EDT

Global investors have significantly pared back U.S. equity allocations as belief grows that the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise rates in the second quarter, according to the BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey for March.

A net 19 percent of global asset allocators are now underweight U.S. equities – the biggest underweight since January 2008 and a big swing from a net 6 percent overweight in February. The proportion of investors saying U.S. equities are overvalued has reached its highest since May 2000 at a net 23 percent.

Allocations to eurozone and Japanese equities have both increased, but investors have indicated that the shift to Europe has only just begun. A net 63 percent of respondents say that Europe is the region they would most like to overweight in the coming 12 months – a record since the question was first asked in 2001. The reading has spiked from a net 18 percent preferring Europe in January.

The move out of U.S. equities is also set to continue. A net 35 percent says that the U.S. is the region they would like to underweight the most, the most bearish reading in nearly 10 years. The spread between Europe and the U.S. has soared to 98 net percentage points – also a record.

The March survey indicates that investors have started to bring forward the date of the Fed’s first rate hike, rather than continue to push it back. The proportion of investors expecting the Fed to raise rates in the second quarter has risen to 34 percent, from 28 percent. The number expecting a rate rise in the third quarter has fallen. Accordingly, a net 2 percent of the panel has taken the view that the U.S. dollar is overvalued – the first overvalued reading since 2009.

“Investor consensus suggests that the strong dollar will act as positive rather than a negative for the global economy and markets,” said Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research. “Bullishness towards European stocks has reached uncharted territory. Demand for financials highlights confidence in domestic growth, while belief in European exporters is building on gains seen last month,” said Manish Kabra, European equity and quantitative strategist.

Inflation and rate expectations up sharply

Investors’ expectations of higher inflation and higher interest rates have risen sharply, according to the Global Fund Manger Survey. A net 52 percent of the panel expects high global consumer price inflation this month, up from a net 29 percent in February and a net 14 percent in January. Furthermore, increasing numbers take the view that global monetary policy could tighten. A net 34 percent say that policy is currently too stimulative, up from a net 26 percent a month ago.

More investors are forecasting increases in both long- and short-term interest rates. A net 66 percent of respondents believe short-term (three-month) rates will be higher in 12 months’ time, up from a net 53 percent in February. A net 63 percent expect long-term (10-year) rates in 12 months, up from a net 57 percent.

European bulls rush into banks

Investors inside Europe have echoed their global colleagues’ bullishness towards the region and made big allocations towards financial services. The proportion of European investors overweight banks has surged to a net 22 percent, from a net 26 percent underweight last month. The proportion of investors overweight insurance has risen to a net 31 percent, from a net 3 percent underweight in February

Belief in a rebound in profits is strong. A net 38 percent of respondents to the regional survey say that they expect double-digit earnings growth in Europe in the next 12 months, up from just a net 3 percent in February and negative net 43 percent in January. A net 88 percent of the regional panel says that Europe’s economy will be stronger in a year’s time, up from 81 percent a month ago.

Investors mindful of China default threat

With questions hanging over China’s debt levels, concern of default has moved to the forefront of more investors’ minds. China debt defaults is now seen the second-largest tail risk in world markets – 19 percent of investors rank it as their greatest risk, compared with 14 percent a month ago. “Geopolitical crisis” remains the most voted for tail risk.

Furthermore, the proportion of asset allocators underweight global emerging markets has risen to a net 11 percent from a net 1 percent in the past month. A net 57 percent of the global panel say that global emerging markets is the regional asset class they most want to underweight in the coming 12 months – down from a net 63 percent but remaining close to historic survey highs.

Fund Manager Survey
An overall total of 207 panelists with US$565 billion of assets under management participated in the survey from 6 to 12 March 2015. A total of 168 managers, managing US$469 billion, participated in the global survey. A total of 92 managers, managing US$192 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.

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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 2014 Institutional Investor All-Asia survey for the fourth consecutive year; No. 1 in the Institutional Investor 2014 Emerging EMEA Survey; and No. 2 in the 2014 Institutional Investor All-America survey. The group was also named No. 2 in the 2014 All-China survey and No. 2 in the 2014 All-America Fixed Income survey for the third consecutive year.

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