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Surge in investor confidence on global growth outlook

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Global investors have become significantly more confident in the outlook for growth, according to the BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey for August.

 
A net 72 per cent of respondents now expect the world’s economy to pick up over the next 12 months – the survey’s strongest reading on this measure in nearly four years and a striking rise from July’s net 52 per cent.
 
Investors remain concerned over a "hard landing" in China, though this has calmed since last month. More than half of the panel still identifies this threat as the biggest risk for markets and economies. However, a net 32 per cent of investors expect China economic growth to be weaker, improvement from net 65 per cent expecting the same last month.
 
At the same time, sentiment towards the eurozone has improved notably. No fewer than 88 per cent of European fund managers now anticipate the region strengthening in the year ahead, twice the level recorded last month. Respondents increasingly view stronger growth as the likeliest solution to the eurozone debt crisis, rather than interventions by the European Central Bank.
 
The macroeconomic tailwind is reflected in a further overweighting of equities, to a net 56 per cent. Equally, the higher inflation and long-term interest rates expectations led to an increase in underweight in bonds (to a net 57 per cent). Cash holdings are reduced slightly from July’s year-high level, but remain at an elevated 4.5 per cent. This appears to tie in with the widespread expectation among investors (seven out of eight) that recovery will remain below-trend for the time being.
 
"While global growth expectations have risen very rapidly, the good news is that cash levels remain high. Out-of-favour emerging markets offer some enticing opportunities to deploy these balances," says Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.
 
"The current earnings season shows global recovery reflected in European companies’ performance. With the eurozone the most undervalued major market by far, optimism on the region’s equities should be sustained," adds John Bilton, European investment strategist.
 
With macroeconomic views of the eurozone increasingly positive, investors are positioning for gains in the region’s equities. A net 20 per cent of respondents would overweight the market on a 12-month view — this marks the survey’s highest reading on this measure in over six years and makes the region investors’ top choice on this horizon, ahead of Japan. Already, a net 17 per cent reports being overweight currently, a 14 percentage point rise since last month.
 
Sentiment would improve further if a European banking union were implemented, the survey makes clear. This remains the key factor for a full revival of European risk appetite, according to panellists, though they also look for structural reforms in peripheral economies and evidence of strong corporate earnings.
 
Investors’ weak conviction towards global emerging markets (GEM) is evident from their reported net 19 per cent underweight in GEM equities. This further weakening compared to last month represents the lowest level recorded in the survey in nearly two years, even though more than three-quarters of specialist fund managers view GEM equities as undervalued.
 
Nonetheless, some positive GEM stories stand out from the survey. In particular, Korea (broadly referring to South Korea’s Kospi Index) has seen a notable turnaround in sentiment since last month. GEM specialists now rank the market one of their top picks (alongside China and Russia), from a net 21 per cent underweight in July.
 
Given the strength of the macroeconomic outlook, companies should be committing more resources to capital expenditures that could secure and even enhance their future growth, in investors’ view. A net 64 per cent of panellists believe that corporates are under-investing in their businesses, up a further six percentage points from July’s strong reading.
 
Investors’ call for more aggressive capex reflects doubts over the strength of future corporate earnings. The survey reveals improved profit expectations, with a net 43 per cent of global fund managers looking for better EPS in the next year – the measure’s highest level since early 2011.
 
But only a minority (32 per cent) judges that the global corporate universe is likely to achieve double-digit EPS over the period.

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