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BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey Finds Risk Appetite Lifts as Growth Expectations Pick Up

Nine-year High in Global Sentiment Towards Japanese Equities

Global investors have a restored appetite for risk amid greater optimism over the outlook for profits and the economy, according to the BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey for November.

A net 47 percent of the global panel expects the economy to strengthen in the year ahead, a rise from a net 33 percent in October. Investors have expressed similar positivity over profits – a net 42 percent say that global corporate profits will improve in the coming year, up from a net 27 percent last month.

Investors have signaled that their optimism has been translating into action over recent weeks. In October, a net 16 percent of the panel said they were taking lower than normal levels of risk. This month, a net 2 percent are taking above-normal risk. The proportion taking out protection against a sharp fall in equities in the coming three months has fallen to a net -39 percent from a net -35 percent.

Asset allocators have shifted out of cash and increased their allocations to equities. A net 13 percent of respondents to the global survey are overweight cash in November, down from a net 27 percent in October. The proportion of asset allocators overweight equities has risen by 12 percentage points to a net 46 percent. Hedge funds have also increased their net allocations to equities – 43 percent of surveyed hedge funds are net long equities, up from 35 percent one month ago. Japan is the region most in favor, while investors are sending mixed signals about appetite towards Europe. Real Estate allocations have reached the highest overweight recorded since its inclusion in the survey in 2006.

“Deflation might be in the back of investors’ minds, but taking on risk, especially in equities, in Japan and in the dollar is at the forefront of their thinking,” said Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Research. “European stocks were recently boosted by the best earnings season in three years. However concerns over longevity of growth and deflation continue. Three wise themes of yield, quality, and large cap are the best places to hide in European stocks,” said Manish Kabra, European equity and quantitative strategist.

Japan – most positive outlook since 2005

Japanese equities have seen a second big pick up in allocations in consecutive months, and the trend is likely to continue. A net 45 percent of global asset allocators are overweight Japan, a rise from a net 32 percent in October and a net 23 percent in September.

Japan is also the most favored region for the coming year. A net 27 percent of the investor panel says that Japan is the region they are most likely to overweight in the next 12 months. This represents a nine-year high and a rise from a net 14 percent in October.

Conviction over Japan appears to be underpinned by a belief in the profit outlook and a view that the country’s stocks are undervalued. A net 26 percent of respondents identified Japan as having the most favorable profit outlook for the year ahead – a rise of 10 percentage points month-on-month. And a net 17 percent say that Japanese equities are the most undervalued in the world.

As they assess Japan’s outlook, investors are weighing up the prospect of the yen suffering more depreciation in the coming year than the euro or dollar. A net 57 percent of the global panel expects the yen to fall in value on a trade-weighted basis. This, however, could make Japanese exporters attractive. The regional survey highlights how three of Japan’s largest exporting sectors – technology, industrials and autos – are the most favored by local investors.

Risk appetite overcomes fear of tail-risks

Investors have marked out deflation as the biggest risk to the market’s upward trajectory. Twenty-nine percent of the global panel said that eurozone deflation is the biggest “tail risk,” ahead of geopolitical crisis (21 percent). Furthermore, asked in a new question what is the greatest risk in 2015, 71 percent opted for deflation over inflation.

But while deflation is a concern, they don’t appear to see it as the most likely outcome. A net 35 percent of investors have said that they expect global core inflation to pick up over the year ahead.

Confused signals over European equities and concern over France

Investors appear unsure how to treat European equities. Global asset allocators increased their moderate overweight positions slightly this month – a net 8 percent are now overweight the region. But investors have also indicated that they would like to underweight the region in the coming 12 months. Meanwhile, investors inside Europe have indicated optimism over the region’s prospects for improving growth and profits – a net 62 percent of the regional respondents forecast improving earnings per share for the coming year, up from a net 32 percent in October. But, they have increased cash holdings in the past month and have indicated a growing appetite to underweight France and scale back holdings in Italy.

Fund Manager Survey
An overall total of 214 panelists with US$569 billion of assets under management participated in the survey from 7 November to 13 November 2014. A total of 166 managers, managing US$431 billion, participated in the global survey. A total of 111 managers, managing US$252 billion, participated in the regional surveys. The survey was conducted by BofA Merrill Lynch Global 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.

BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research
The BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research franchise covers more than 3,500 stocks and 1,180 credits globally and ranks in the top tier in many external surveys. Most recently, the group was named Top Global Research Firm of 2013 by Institutional Investor magazine; No. 1 in the 2014 Institutional Investor All-Europe survey; No. 1 in the 2014 Institutional Investor All-Asia survey for the fourth consecutive year; No. 1 in the Institutional Investor 2014 Emerging EMEA Survey; No. 2 in the 2014 Institutional Investor All-America survey; and No. 2 in the 2013 All-China survey. The group was also named No. 2 in the 2014 Institutional Investor All-Europe Fixed Income Research survey; and No. 2 in the 2014 All-America Fixed Income survey for the third consecutive year.

Bank of America
Bank of America is one of the world’s largest financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small businesses, 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 approximately 48 million consumer and small business relationships with approximately 4,900 retail banking offices and approximately 15,700 ATMs and award-winning online banking with 31 million active users and more than 16 million mobile users. 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 approximately 3 million small business owners through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients through operations in more than 40 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock (NYSE: BAC) is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

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