The January Merrill Lynch Fund Managers Survey showed very optimistic expectations from the majority of money managers. This is a sharp change from last months survey when fund managers were entering 2009 with cautious optimism. The latest survey showed the highest surge in Merrill’s Risk & Liquidity (46%) indicator since May of 2006. In the past, this indicator has served as a fairly good contrarian indicator.
In terms of asset allocation, fund managers have turned substantially more aggressive. Cash levels are now at their lowest levels since 2007. Fund managers have aggressively deployed cash into the equity markets:
“Average cash balances have fallen to 3.4 percent, the lowest reading since mid 2007 and down significantly from 4.0 percent in December. Appetite for equities is strong. A net 52 percent of asset allocators are overweight equities, up sharply from a net 37 percent in December.”
Much of this cash has poured into commodities:
In terms of regions, the U.S. remains an underweight as investors continue to favor emerging markets:
This survey is showing some contrarian sell signals. Just 45% of fund managers are protecting themselves against a downturn versus 52% in December. The survey also shows a strong appetite for risk and high beta names. According to Merrill’s analysts the survey could be cause for alarm:
“This survey is one of the more bullish we have seen and suggests that investors buy into the idea that this recovery has legs,” said Gary Baker, head of European Equities strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research. “We are, however, seeing early signs that might alert contrarians looking for a selling opportunity – namely low cash allocations and possible complacency against a sell off in stocks,” said Michael Hartnett, chief Global Equities strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.