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BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey Shows Growing Belief in Global Economy Despite Slump in Sentiment Towards Europe


Investors Consensus for Fed to Launch QE3 if S&P Dips Below 1,100

NEW YORK and LONDON – The global economic outlook remains positive in spite of a sharp deterioration in investor sentiment towards and within Europe, according to the BofA Merrill Lynch Survey of Fund Managers for July.

A net 19 percent of global fund managers and asset allocators believe that the global economy will strengthen in the next 12 months. This number has grown for two successive months from a net 10 percent in May. The global outlook for corporate profits has also ticked upwards. A net 11 percent of investors predict higher global corporate profits in the coming year, up from a net 7 percent in June.

But fears over sovereign debt have fueled the highest level of European economic pessimism since depths of the credit crisis. Nearly two-thirds of the panel identified EU sovereign debt funding as the number one tail risk (64 percent compared with 43 percent in June). A net 22 percent of respondents to the Regional Survey expect Europe’s economy to weaken in the coming 12 months – the most negative reading since April 2009.

European investors have sharply reduced positions across many sectors, but the most eye-catching position is in banks. A net 57 percent of the European panel is now underweight banks (versus 33 percent in June), leaving the sector at its lowest ebb since February 2009.

While respondents to the global survey have scaled back positions in eurozone equities, they have increased them in every other region, including the U.S. As sentiment improves, desire for a third round of quantitative easing (QE3) remains low – 40 percent of respondents said in July that they are not expecting QE3. But 48 percent of the panel says that QE3 will be necessary if the S&P 500 falls by 20 percent.

“Our question about QE3 this month shows that investors don’t want policy makers to panic now – but many expect the Fed to apply QE3 if the S&P 500 falls below 1,100,” said Michael Hartnett, chief Global Equity strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research. “Investors have acted decisively in response to recent developments in EU sovereign funding. The question is whether eurozone equities have been oversold,” said Gary Baker, head of European Equities strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.

Sentiment towards GEM and Japan improves

As the eurozone suffers, Japan and Global Emerging Markets are the regions with the greatest positive sentiment momentum.

A net 33 percent of asset allocators were overweight Global Emerging Markets equities this month, a rise of 10 percentage points since June. Looking ahead, Global Emerging Markets is the region investors would most like to overweight.

Among Asian and emerging market portfolio managers, concerns over China’s growth prospects have eased. A net 24 percent of respondents are now predicting slower growth over the next 12 months down from a net 40 percent in June.

Allocations to Japanese equities received a large positive swing over the past month. A net 22 percent had been underweight in June, but that transformed to net 2 percent overweight

in July. Expectations within Japan are also strong, especially regarding corporate performance. A net 76 percent of respondents to the Japanese Regional Survey expect corporate earnings to improve in the next 12 months, up from a net 54 percent in June. A net 56 percent believe that Japanese equities are undervalued.

Poor trading conditions dampen risk appetite

While July’s survey shows that appetite for global equities rose, it also suggests that the desire to invest has been constrained by poor trading conditions. The BofA Merrill Lynch Risk and Liquidity Composite indicator remained stable at 38 – a little below the average risk benchmark of 40. Cash holdings ticked downwards and the overall level of risk increased, although it remained below average. A net 21 percent of the panel is taking below average portfolio risk relative to their benchmark, compared with a net 26 percent in June.

Asset allocators increased equity allocations and reduced bond holdings. A net 35 percent of asset allocators were overweight equities in July, up from a net 27 percent in June. A net 45 percent of the panel was underweight bonds, up from a net 35 percent in June.

But investors have indicated that liquidity conditions worsened over the past month. A net 20 percent of the panel described liquidity conditions as positive, down from a net 35 percent in July. Visibility has also deteriorated. A net 35 percent of investors describe their current investment time horizon as shorter than normal – up from a net 26 percent in June and the weakest reading since May 2010.

Europeans betting on export-led stocks

Changes in European investors’ sector allocations reflect growth fears about the eurozone economy and the need to hunt for growth elsewhere. European investors are upping allocations to pro-cyclical exporters such as Autos and Parts, Basic Resources and Technology. In contrast, global sector allocations show a balance between defensive and cyclical stocks.

Survey of Fund Managers

An overall total 265 panelists with US$792 billion of assets under management participated in the survey from 8 to 14 July. A total of 196 fund managers, managing a total of US$631 billion, responded to the global FMS questionnaire. A total of 149 managers, managing US$409 billion, responded to the regional FMS questionnaire. The survey was conducted by BofA Merrill Lynch Research with the help of market research company TNS-BRMB. Through its international network in more than 50 countries, TNS-BRMB 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.

The BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research franchise covers more than 3,300 stocks and 950 credits globally and ranks in the top tier in many external surveys. Most recently, the group was named No. 1 in the 2011 Institutional Investor All-Asia, All-China and All-Japan surveys, marking the first time a single institution simultaneously tops all three surveys. The group was also named No. 2 in the inaugural Institutional Investor Emerging Markets Equity and Fixed Income Survey, covering Emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa; No. 4 in the inaugural Institutional Investor All-India survey; No. 1 in the 2010 All-Latin America Research team surveys; and No. 3 in the 2010 Institutional Investor All-America Equity, All-America Fixed Income and All-Europe Research team surveys.

In addition, the group was ranked the No. 1 Pan-European firm for Equity Sectors Research and the No. 2 Pan-European firm for Equity and Equity-Linked Research in the 2011 Extel survey, both for the second consecutive year. The group was also the winner of the Emerging Markets’ magazine EM Research Global Award for 2010.

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