Fund Manager Survey finds Sovereign Debt Fears easing as Investors anticipate Greek Default

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Global investors appear to be coming to terms with the prospect of a default by the Greek government, according to the BofA Merrill Lynch Survey of Fund Managers for October.

More than nine out of 10 (92 percent) of the 199 respondents to October’s global survey believe that Greece cannot avoid default. Seven out of 10 respondents predict a default by April 2012. Despite this overwhelming consensus, investors are less worried about sovereign risk than a month ago and less pessimistic about global growth.


EU sovereign debt funding remains the biggest tail risk in investors’ minds, but concern has fallen from September’s highs. While 68 percent of respondents considered it their number one concern last month, only 61 percent take that view in October.

The survey also suggests that the outlook for growth has stabilized and fears of global recession have receded. The proportion of the panel expecting a global recession in the coming 12 months has fallen to a net 25 percent from a net 40 percent in September. A net 15 percent of the global panel believes growth will weaken in the coming year, down from a net 17 percent in September.

“The survey shows investor consensus has priced in, or hopes for, an orderly default by Greece,” said Michael Hartnett, chief Global Equities strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Research. “Europe appears back from the brink. But it seems investors are waiting for the all clear from both Europe and emerging markets before committing cash,” said Gary Baker, head of European Equities strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch Research.

Europe back from the brink

A month ago, the world was shunning Europe’s markets, but global negativity towards the region has eased. A net 7 percent of the panel says that the eurozone is the region they would most like to underweight in the coming 12 months, down from a net 40 percent in September. More investors (a net 8 percent) would most like to underweight Japan in the coming year.

A net 29 percent of asset allocators are currently underweight eurozone equities, down from a net 38 percent in September. Sentiment towards the U.K. has also improved. While a net 26 percent were underweight U.K. equities a month ago, that figure fell to a net 12 percent in October.

Within Europe, however, investors have become more concerned about the macro economic outlook. A net 37 percent of respondents to the European regional survey expect a recession in the coming 12 months, up from a net 11 percent a month ago.

Cash levels high; equities and commodities demand falls

While some indicators show sentiment improving this month, risk aversion remains at or close to September’s highs. Average cash balances have increased month on month to 5 percent of portfolios, up from 4.9 percent in September. A net 39 percent of asset allocators are overweight cash (36 percent a month ago).

A net 7 percent of asset allocators are underweight equities, more than September’s level of 5 percent. Emerging market equities has seen a steep fall in popularity. Only net 9 percent of asset allocators say they are overweight emerging market equities in October, compared with a net 30 percent in September. A net 47 percent of regional fund managers predict China’s economy will weaken in the coming year, up from 30 percent last month. The panel has also moved slightly underweight commodities having been slightly overweight in September.

Technology: the last cyclical outpost

With emerging markets and commodities losing favor this month, only one cyclical investment remains popular. Technology retains its position as the world’s favorite sector. Pharmaceuticals and staples, more defensive investments, stand at two and three respectively. Allocations to technology increased month on month. A net 39 percent of the panel is overweight the sector, up from a net 35 percent in September.

A second sign that risk appetite might be stirring among some investors is that bearishness towards banks has fallen sharply. A net 34 percent the global panel is underweight banks this month, down from a net 47 percent in September.

Survey of Fund Managers

An overall total 286 panelists with US$739 billion of assets under management participated in the survey from 7 to 13 October. A total of 199 managers, managing US$570 billion, participated in the global survey. A total of 141 managers, managing US$331 billion, participated in the regional surveys. The survey was conducted by BofA 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.

The BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research franchise covers more than 3,300 stocks and 1,000 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. 2 in the 2011 All-Latin America and All-America Equity team surveys; and No. 3 in the 2010 Institutional Investor All-America Fixed Income, All-Brazil 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 and 2011.

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