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Fund Managers Reduce Cash Positions, Boost Equities: BofA Merrill Survey

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The mountain of cash that global fund managers have been sitting on for months is shrinking as they grow more optimistic about global growth and add to allocations in U.S. and emerging market equities.

According to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch global fund manager survey, cash levels fell from a record 15-year high 5.8% in July to 5.4% in August while the allocation to emerging market stocks rose to a net 14% overweight – its highest level since September 2014. Fund managers allocations to U.S. equities rose to a net 11% overweight position — a level not seen since January 2015.

“Investors are less bearish, but sentiment has yet to shift from ‘fear’ to greed,’” said Chief investment Strategist Michael Hartnett in a statement. “ We expect stock prices to rise further until bonds throw another tantrum.”

The last major bond tantrum occurred in the summer of 2013 when Treasury yields surged following signals that the U.S. Federal Reserve would begin to slow the bond purchases that underpinned its quantitative easing policy.

In the meantime, low and stable interest rate policy maintained by global central banks is a major factor behind the current economic optimism, according to the global fund manager survey.

Only 13% of survey respondents expect the Bank of Japan or European Central Bank to end its negative rate policy within the next 12 months, and net 23% of investors expect the global economy will improve over the next 12 months.

As a result of this improving global economic outlook, fund managers are not only reducing cash levels, which are still relatively high, but staging a “modest rotation from bonds to equities” and commodities, according to the survey.

A separate BofA Merrill Lynch report released today forecast a rally in oil prices to $54 a barrel by year-end, up from $46 currently, based on “healthy demand” versus declining supplies plus a sector underweighting by investors and within the S&P 500.

Twenty-five percent of respondents in the fund manager survey say Treasury bond yields will be the biggest driver of equity prices over the next six months while 22% say the key driver will be the U.S. dollar and 16% cite the European risk premium.

While fund managers are more bullish on U.S. and emerging market equities they are also less bearish on Japanese equities and U.K. equities. Their net underweighting of Japanese equities fell to 1% from 7% last month and for U.K. equities the net underweighting fell to 21% from 27%. Clearly Brexit is still a major concern among fund managers.

The single biggest worry for fund managers, in fact, is E.U. disintegration, according to the fund managers survey, followed by renewed China currency devaluation and rising U.S. inflation.

Despite these concerns, many fund managers are less worried now about a drop in U.S. equities than they were in July. Fewer managers are taking out protection against a sharp fall in equity markets over the next three months, according to the survey.

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