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Investors fleeing equities en masse on fear of recession: BofA survey

Allocations to stocks at record lows, cash exposure at all-time highs, survey shows

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Investors are fleeing equities en masse amid the spectre of a recession, with allocations to stocks at record lows and cash exposure at all-time highs, a Bank of America Corp. survey showed.

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A historically high 52 per cent of respondents said they are underweight equities, while 62 per cent are overweight cash, according to the bank’s global fund manager survey, which included 212 participants with US$616 billion under management in the week through Sept. 8.

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As concerns over the economy escalate, the number of investors expecting a recession has reached the highest since May 2020, strategists led by Michael Hartnett said in a note on Tuesday. Sentiment is “super bearish,” with the energy crisis further weighing on risk appetite, they said. A net 42 per cent of global investors are underweight European equities, the largest such position on record.

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Global stocks have had a roller-coaster ride in the past few months. Declines have been driven by fears that central banks will remain hawkish for longer and tip the economy into a recession, while rallies have been fuelled by low investor positioning and optimism around peaking inflation in the United States.

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Strategists at top banks including Deutsche Bank AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co. say bleak investor sentiment — often a contrarian indicator for a stock rally — is likely to drive equities higher into the year-end.

Bank of America’s Hartnett sees the extent of depressed sentiment and better-than-feared macroeconomic data boosting the S&P 500 to 4,300 points, nearly five per cent above current levels. But he expects the index to fall back from that level, and remains “fundamentally and patiently bearish.”

Stocks face a selloff today after Labor Department data showed U.S. consumer prices increased 8.3 per cent in August from a year earlier. While that’s less than the 8.5 per cent jump last month, it was stronger than economists had anticipated and pushed traders to fully price in another 75-basis-point interest rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve at its meeting later this month. S&P 500 futures sank as much as 1.8 per cent after the data was released.

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The outlook for corporate earnings is also deteriorating. A net 92 per cent of participants in the Bank of America survey now expect profits to decline in the next year, while the number of investors taking higher-than-normal risk has fallen to a record low.

Persistently high inflation is seen as the biggest tail risk, followed by hawkish central banks, geopolitics and a global recession. Only one per cent of participants see a resurgence in the COVID-19 pandemic as a tail risk.

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Other survey highlights include:

The most crowded trades are long U.S. dollar, long oil and commodities, long environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) assets, short U.S. Treasuries, long growth stocks and long cash;

A net 79 per cent of participants see slower inflation in the next 12 months, while 36 per cent say the Fed will stop hiking rates in the second quarter of 2023;

Monetary risk lingers, according to a near record share of investors, while rates are the most volatile since the global financial crisis;

Europe’s energy crisis will likely push the regional economy into a recession, almost 70 per cent of participants say, while fewer believe an energy price cap announcement to be the most likely outcome;

Relative to the past 10 years, investors are long cash, defensives and energy, while being underweight equities, the eurozone, emerging markets and cyclicals.



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