Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey Finds Growing Optimism in Global Economic Outlook

18 Mar 2009 13:30 Africa/Lagos

Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey Finds Growing Optimism in Global Economic Outlook

Fear over Banks Holds Back Equity Recovery

NEW YORK and LONDON, March 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Investors are at their most optimistic about the global economy since December 2005, according to the Merrill Lynch Survey of Fund Managers for March. However, the prolonged banking crisis seems to be stopping them from putting cash into equities.

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For the first time in more than three years, investors do not predict lower global economic growth over the next 12 months. Renewed optimism about China's economy lies at the heart of this revival. Just two months ago, a net 70 percent of respondents thought China's economy would worsen in the year ahead. That figure fell to a net 1 percent this month.

At the same time, risk appetite has dropped with investor pessimism towards banks at a record high. A net 48 percent of asset allocators said they are underweight banks this month, up from a net 39 percent in February. A total of 22 percent said they are aggressively underweight banks, versus 17 percent in February. Respondents are noticeably bearish about Japanese and eurozone equities.

"March's survey shows signs that investors want to believe in an economic recovery. However, caution on banks is firmly capping risk appetite," said Gary Baker, Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch co-head of international investment strategy. "How investors resolve this anomaly between growth optimism and risk reluctance will determine the fate of equity markets this spring," said Michael Hartnett, Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch co-head of international investment strategy.

Out of equities, into safe havens

Risk appetite in equities took a marked downward turn in March despite the improved economic outlook. Respondents say they have reduced their equity exposure in the past month while increasing cash holdings and fixed-income investments.

A net 41 percent of respondents are underweight equities, up from a net 34 percent in February. World equities fell by 15.5 percent during the days the survey took place. Investors appeared to have flooded into bonds with a net 26 percent of the panel overweight the assets class, up sharply from a net 7 percent the previous month. Average cash balances rose to 5.2 percent from 4.9 percent in February.

Signs of an early recovery phase have appeared, however. A net 42 percent of the panel believe equities are undervalued, up from a net 24 percent in February. Changes in sector allocation indicate a movement out of the most defensive stocks, such as in Pharmaceuticals - where a net 30 percent are now overweight the sector, down from a net 37 percent in February. At the same time the panel has increased exposure to Technology, a much more cyclical industry. A net 28 percent of respondents are overweight the sector, up from a net 15 percent in February.

BRIC is back but eurozone and Japan shunned

While the U.S. continues to fuel economic optimism, investors have become more bullish about emerging markets, especially China.

Respondents have taken a net overweight position in emerging markets equities for the first time since August 2008. A net 4 percent are overweight the sector compared with net 4 percent being underweight in February. At the same time, commodities have made further gains with the number of investors underweight the asset class falling to a net 6 percent, down from a net 25 percent in January.

"Optimism on growth has been expressed with higher weightings in emerging markets equities and commodities," said Michael Hartnett. In contrast, investors have further reduced equity investment in the eurozone and Japan. "Investors might look to review their extreme underweight positions in eurozone and Japanese equities if economic data follow growth expectations higher," Hartnett said.

A net 40 percent of respondents are now underweight eurozone equities and a net 39 percents are underweight Japanese equities.

Survey of Fund Managers

A total of 213 fund managers, managing a total of US$533 billion, participated in the global survey from March 6 to March 12. A total of 183 managers, managing US$365 billion, participated in the regional surveys. The survey was conducted by Banc of America Securities - Merrill Lynch Research with the help of market research company TNS. Through its international network in more than 50 countries, TNS 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.

Bank of America

Bank of America is one of the world's largest financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small and middle market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk-management products and services. The company provides unmatched convenience in the United States, serving more than 59 million consumer and small business relationships with more than 6,100 retail banking offices, nearly 18,700 ATMs and award-winning online banking with nearly 29 million active users. Following the acquisition of Merrill Lynch on January 1, 2009, Bank of America is among the world's leading wealth management companies and is a global leader in corporate and investment banking and trading across a broad range of asset classes serving corporations, governments, institutions and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to more than 4 million small business owners through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients in more than 150 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Many of the bank's services to corporate and institutional clients are provided through its U.S. and UK subsidiaries, including Banc of America Securities LLC, Banc of America Securities Limited, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith Incorporated and Merrill Lynch International. For additional information, visit

Merrill Lynch

Merrill Lynch is one of the world's leading wealth management, capital markets and advisory companies, with offices in 40 countries and territories and total client assets of approximately $1.2 trillion at December 26, 2008. As an investment bank, it is a leading global trader and underwriter of securities and derivatives across a broad range of asset classes and serves as a strategic advisor to corporations, governments, institutions and individuals worldwide. Merrill Lynch has approximately 50 percent ownership in BlackRock Inc., one of the world's largest publicly traded investment management companies, with approximately $1.3 trillion in assets under management at December 31, 2008. For more information on Merrill Lynch, please visit Merrill Lynch was acquired by Bank of America on January 1, 2009.

Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch

CONTACT: Susan McCabe Walley, Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch,
+1-212-449-0389,, Tomos Rhys Edwards, Banc of America
Securities-Merrill Lynch, +44-20-7995-2763,

Web Site: Bank of America

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