Slow recovery in markets seen as COVID-19 risks persist, cash still king: BofA survey

A man cleans up on the trading floor, following traders testing positive for Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

LONDON (Reuters) – Investors are bearish on stocks, especially riskier assets, and expect a slower economic recovery as the risk of a second wave of infections from the novel coronavirus persists, a BofA fund manager survey showed.

World stocks have bounced back by a whopping 31% in less than two months from a March selloff, recovering more than half their losses, as investors bet that economic activity would rebound rapidly once lockdowns were eased.

But evidence of fresh coronavirus infections in some countries has dampened those hopes. BofA’s survey showed that a pandemic “second wave” was seen as the biggest risk to markets for the second straight month.

As economic forecasts continue to deteriorate, May’s poll showed 75% of respondents believe the recovery will be U or W-shaped. Only 10% of the 194 respondents in the survey were expecting a V-shaped recovery.

A V-shaped recovery is when a plunge in growth is followed by an equally sharp recovery; U-shaped is when recovery takes more than a couple of quarters; and W-shaped refers to a double-dip in growth.

Investor pessimism was further evident in cash levels elevated at 5.7%, well above 4% in February and slightly below April.

Other findings from the survey included that long U.S. tech and growth stocks were the “most crowded” trade for May, and that hedge funds were increasing their exposure to equities by 15 percentage points to net 34% — the largest increase since June 2018.

BofA’s “Bull & Bear Indicator”, a sentiment index, remained pinned at 0.0 since March, generating a contrarian “buy signal” for risk assets, the U.S. bank said.

On the bright side, risk of a “systemic credit event” – corporate credit defaults — collapsed to 8% from 30%.

Reporting by Thyagaraju Adinarayan; Editing by Catherine Evans

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