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Merrill: Managers Expect Stock Peak in ‘2019 or Beyond’

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Global investors raised their allocation to equities to net 55% overweight in January, a two-year high, according to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch fund manager survey.

Allocation to bonds fell to a four-year low of net 67% underweight. Investors in January were the most overweight equities relative to government bonds since August 2014, Merrill said.

The balance of investors who said they were taking out protection against a near-term correction in the markets fell to net -50%, the lowest level since 2013.

Survey respondents were divided on when they expected equity markets to peak. Thirty percent said this would happen in “2019 or beyond,” the most commonly cited response.

Goldman Sachs predicts the bull market will run another three years.

In the Merrill survey, net hedge fund equity market exposure climbed nine percentage points to net 49%, the highest level since 2006.

The net share of investors who believed global corporate earnings would increase by 10% or more over the next year came in at net 15%, the highest level since 2011. Fifty-seven percent of investors said they wanted to see companies increase capital spending.

“Investors continue to favor equities,” Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, said in a statement. “By the end of Q1, we expect peak positioning to combine with peak profits and policy to create a spike in volatility.”

Short volatility assumed first place as the most crowded trade in January, cited by 28% of survey respondents. Twenty-six percent cited long FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google’s parent Alphabet) + BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), while 24% said long Bitcoin was the trade considered most crowded.

In January, investors’ average cash balance fell back to the five-year low of 4.4% from 4.7% last month, eliminating the fund manager cash rule “buy” signal and moving it into “neutral” territory.

The cash rule holds that 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.

Inflation and/or a crash in global bond markets was considered the chief tail risk in January, mentioned by 36% of investors. The top tail risks were rounded out by 19% who said a policy mistake by the U.S. Federal Reserve/European Central Bank and 11% who cited market structure.

Net 11% of investors surveyed expect the U.S. yield curve to flatten in 2018, the highest level in over two years.

When asked about preferred regions, global investors said they would most like to overweight eurozone, emerging markets and Japan.

The U.K. continued to be woefully out of consensus, falling again in January to a new record low since 2001, 36% underweight. 

The January fund manager survey was conducted Jan. 5 to 11 among 213 panelists with a total $591 billion in assets under management.


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