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Investors’ Cash Level Highest Since Brexit, 9/11: BofA Merrill Survey

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Cash levels for investor jumped to 5.8% in October from 5.5% in September, their highest levels since July following the Brexit vote and the fall of 2001, after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s latest fund manager survey showed.

What’s making investors so risk averse? “This month’s cash levels indicate that investors are bearish, with fears of an EU breakup, a bond crash and Republicans winning the White House jangling nerves,” Michael Hartnett, Bank of America’s chief investment strategist, said in a statement.

(Related: 3 Potential ‘Black Swans’ to Watch For: 3EDGE)

Twenty percent of fund managers cited fears of EU disintegration as the biggest tail risk, 18% a bond market crash/rising credit spreads and 17% the prospect of Donald Trump winning the presidency.

Manish Kabra, Bank of America’s European equity quantitative strategist, said that despite investors fear of an EU breakup, “European fund managers surveyed are more optimistic about the economic growth outlook for the Eurozone and expect stronger inflation.”

The fund manager survey cash rule works as follows, Bank of America noted: when average cash balance rises above 4.5%, a contrarian buy signal is generated for equities. When the cash balance falls below 3.5%, a contrarian sell signal is generated.

Bank of America said a lower cash/risk rally awaited trust and certainty in U.S./EU politics, a “good” (meaning no crash) slow rise in bond yields and a clear earnings-per-share upswing.

The survey found that inflation expectations were at a 16-month high, and stagflation fear was at its highest point since April 2013. As well, investors’ perception of developed market equity and bond valuations was at a record level, net 55%.

Allocation to equities improved to seven-month highs in October, net 11% overweight, while allocation to bonds fell to 10-month lows, net 50% underweight from net 45% underweight in September.

As inflation hedges, investors made their largest allocation to emerging markets equity in more than three years, rising to 31% overweight from 24% last month, and were no longer underweight commodities, for the first time since December 2012.

Investors cited long high-quality stocks, long U.S./EU investment-grade corporate bonds and minimum volatility strategies as the most crowded trades.

Allocation to U.S. and Eurozone equities remained unchanged in October, net 7% underweight and net 5% overweight, respectively. Allocation to U.K. equities fell to net 27% underweight from net 24%.

Investors raised their allocation to Japanese equities slightly to net 3% underweight from net 8% underweight in September.

The survey showed October rotation toward banks in the biggest monthly rise in this allocation in two years, commodities, emerging markets equities and the euro (the percentage of investors expecting the euro to appreciate was the largest since March 2014).

Meanwhile, there was a rotation away from sectors such as bonds, REITs, telecoms and healthcare—“ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) winners.” Bank of America noted that the survey’s measure of “sector conviction” was at its lowest point since June 2014.

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