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17 Mar 2010

Hedge Fund Manager Survey Finds Sentiment Moving Against Europe, in Favor of U.S.

New York ( - Investors have recovered their bullishness towards equity markets but are shifting their focus away from Europe and into the U.S. and Japan, according to the BofA Merrill Lynch Survey of Fund Managers for March.

A total of 207 fund managers, managing a total of US$589 billion, participated in the global survey from 5 March to 11 March. A total of 165 managers, managing US$403 billion, participated in the regional surveys.

After weakened sentiment in February, the survey shows that investors have restored their faith in equities with a net 46 percent of asset allocators saying they are overweight the asset class, up from 33 percent the previous month. Cash positions have fallen with respondents at a net neutral cash allocation compared with a net 12 percent underweight in February.

Asset allocators have retrenched from Europe, however. A net 21 percent are underweight European equities this month, up sharply from a net 2 percent overweight in January.

The change in favor of U.S. equities has been similar. A net 19 percent of asset allocators are overweight U.S. equities this month, up from just 1 percent in January. Japan is also regaining popularity. A net 6 percent of allocators are overweight Japanese equities, the most bullish reading since August 2007, and up from a net 10 percent underweight in January.

Global investors believe that the corporate outlook is better away from Europe. A net 40 percent of the panel says the outlook for eurozone corporate profits is the least favorable of all regions.

"Investors' concerns about Greece are easing, but European country risk remains a key constraint to optimism over economic recovery," said Gary Baker, head of European Equities strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch Research. "Investors are more willing to embrace corporate risk, via equities, than sovereign risk," said Michael Hartnett, chief Global Equities strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Research.

The net number of European fund managers predicting growth in their own economy over the coming 12 months has fallen to 45 percent, down from 72 percent in January, according to the Regional Fund Manager Survey. While European sentiment might have been expected to weaken, a similar fall in optimism is also evident among U.S. investors. A net 43 percent forecast growth in the American economy over the next 12 months, down from a net 76 percent in January.

Investors in both regions have stronger belief in earnings growth. A net 60 percent of European respondents predict improved earnings in the coming 12 months, an increase of 11 percent on February. Their colleagues in the U.S. are more positive with a net 72 percent forecasting earnings growth, up from a net 52 percent in February.

U.S. and European investors have significantly scaled back their cash allocations. A net 9 percent of the European panel is overweight cash this month, down from 26 percent in February. The corresponding numbers for U.S. investors are a net 8 percent in March and 19 percent in February.

European respondents have increased exposure to cyclical sectors, including Basic Resources and Construction. They have reduced their underweight position on banks. US investors have also increased exposure to cyclicals, such as Industrials and Materials, but have extended their underweight positions in Banks.