Fund managers jump on Bernanke bandwagon

November 17, 2010, 12:49 AM UTC

Not everyone is buying Ben Bernanke’s line, but fund managers surely are.

Global money managers have poured funds into riskier assets like stocks at a brisk pace since the Federal Reserve confirmed it would try new medicine on a sickly economy, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said.

The good old days?

A net 35% of investors now see the global economy strengthening, Merrill said Wednesday in its monthly fund manager survey. That’s up from 15% in October, just before Bernanke & Co. pulled the trigger on a second round of quantitative easing.

A net 41% of managers now see corporate profits surging over the next year, and the same proportion have loaded their client portfolios up to overweight on stocks. Just 10% of fund managers in September had their clients heavily in stocks.

This represents the biggest surge in bullish sentiment since April, Merrill notes. That, you may recall, was just before stocks tanked in the Greek crisis.

Accordingly, the firm sees a risk of a sharp selloff, as happens to be taking place Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 170 points at midafternoon and was in danger of falling below 11,000 for the first time since Oct. 27.

“Following QE2, we have witnessed a capitulation into risk assets to a degree that history suggests should prompt concern. Cash holdings, especially, are dangerously low at 3.5% of portfolios,” said Gary Baker, head of European equities strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.

The Fed said Nov. 3 it would buy more Treasury bonds to boost asset prices and support a U.S. recovery. Heading into Wednesday’s action, the Dow had been flat since the announcement of the Fed move – though it rose 12% between Aug. 27, when Bernanke sketched out the prospect of QE2 in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Nov. 2.

It’s not like the risk of another European meltdown, this time centered in Ireland and Portugal, is catching anyone by surprise. More than a third of large investors surveyed identified European Union sovereign funding as the biggest risk now.

Unsurprisingly, more fund managers are socking money into commodities, which like stocks have enjoyed a surge since Bernanke laid out his views in August and which are supposedly less correlated with other financial markets. But only 21% of fund managers report overweighting the sector, which is a rise of just 4 points from October.

However investors are positioned, the Bernanke-inspired surge may set recent stock buyers up for a world of hurt as the year comes to a close, Merrill says.

“It’s possible that the year-end rally has already happened, leaving investors vulnerable to event risk such as a deepening European sovereign debt crisis or a dollar rally,” said Michael Hartnett, chief Global Equity strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.