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Fund Managers Bullish, Haven’t Hit ‘Peak Greed’ Yet: Merrill

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Investors around the world expect stronger growth, higher inflation and higher profits, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s December global fund manager survey.

The survey, released Tuesday, found that the share of investors expecting global growth had jumped to net 57% from net 35% in November, a 19-month high, while expectations of global inflation were at the second highest percentage level in some 12 years, net 84% from net 85% last month.

BofAML conducted the survey during the first week of December among 173 of its clients, which had $473 billion in assets under management.

Fund managers in the poll were the most optimistic about corporate profit expectations in more than six years, with a net 56% saying global profits would improve in the next 12 months, up from 29% in November.

Cash levels fell again in December to 4.8% from 5% in November and 5.8% in October.

BofA said that average cash balances above 4.5% generated a contrarian buy signal and those below 3.5% a contrarian sell signal.

“Fund managers have pushed pause on a risk rally, with cash balances falling sharply over the past two months,” Michael Hartnett, Merrill’s chief investment strategist, said in a statement.

“With expectations of growth, inflation and corporate profits at multi-year highs, Wall Street is sending a strong signal that it is bullish.”

Merrill noted that on three previous occasions, in 2001 and 2002, when cash was down one percentage point in two months, a risk rally “paused.” However, it said, the survey had not yet shown “peak greed”: Cash levels were still high relative to bonds and equities.

Thirty-five percent of investors in the December survey said long U.S. dollar was the most crowded trade.

On corporate investment, a record net 74% of investors thought companies were currently underinvesting.

In addition, 54% of investors thought the rotation to cyclical styles and inflationary sectors would continue well into 2017, supported by a strong greenback and higher rates, up from 44% last month.

At the same time, 20% thought the rotation would continue only until year-end, 13% said it was already over and 14% did not know.

Regional Allocation

Allocation to U.S. equities improved to a two-year high of net 15% overweight from net 4% overweight in November.

The survey found investors underweight eurozone equities in December for the first time in five months: net 1% underweight vs. net 4% overweight in November.

“Despite the improved outlook on European economic growth and inflation, global investors continue to shun European stocks amid concerns of further EU disintegration or bank defaults,” Manish Kabra, Merrill’s European equity quantitative strategist, said in the statement.

Indeed, 29% of global managers identified EU disintegration and possible bank defaults as the chief tail risk, followed by 26% who pointed to a “stagflationary” bond crash.

Nineteen percent worried about a Chinese currency devaluation and property bubble.

Allocation to Japanese equities hurtled to a 10-month high of net 21% overweight from net 5% underweight in November — the biggest month-over-month jump in the survey’s history, according to Merrill.

Investors’ emerging market equities allocation in December fell one percentage point to a seven-month low of net 3% overweight.