Overdone? Short EU equities ‘most crowded’ trade for first time

Overdone? Short EU equities ‘most crowded’ trade for first time

LONDON (Reuters) – Fund managers have named bearish bets in European equities as the “most crowded” trade in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s survey for the first time in its history, suggesting sentiment for one of the world’s most shunned markets may rise from here.

FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Staff

Investors have pulled cash from European stocks over the past year, betting the market would be weaker compared with the United States and other regions as euro zone economic growth slows and Britain’s chaotic exit from the European Union raises concerns about disruption to its economy.

Short European equities replaced long emerging markets, which held the title for just one month.

The shift in investor views reflects broader uncertainty about the direction of financial markets as the Federal Reserve and ECB keep interest rates on hold amid signs that growth is slowing.

The results also suggest that fund managers believe the gloom that has seen $30 billion leave European equities this year may have been overdone.

In a note on Sunday, Morgan Stanley chief European equity strategist Graham Secker said he believes Europe is set to surprise on the upside as issues that weighed on growth in the second half of last year start to fade.

The pan-European STOXX 600 rose 0.7 percent on Tuesday to its highest since Oct. 3 and was on track for its longest winning streak in six months.

Auto stocks led the gains after the bank’s auto analysts recommended contrarian investors buy select carmakers after the survey showed investors grew more bearish on the sector.

Tentative improvements in consumer and wage data – and the improving German car sector – are a good omen, Secker said, noting that China, whose slowdown has been behind much of Europe’s malaise, is finally showing a turnaround in new export orders PMIs.

(GRAPHIC: Evolution of FMS “most crowded trade” – tmsnrt.rs/2UDJerA)

CHINA SLOWDOWN

Still, BAML’s March survey – conducted between March 8 and 14, among 239 panelists managing $664 billion in total – also indicated that investor risk appetite had continued to fall, with global equity allocations remaining at September, 2016 lows.

“The pain trade for stocks is still up,” said Michael Hartnett, BAML’s chief investment strategist.

“Despite rising profit expectations, lower rate expectations and falling cash levels, stock allocations continue to drop. There is simply no greed to sell in equities.”

A slowdown in China, the world’s No. 2 economy, topped the list of biggest tail risks, ousting the trade war, which had been investors’ main concern for the previous nine months, according to the survey.

Third on this month’s list was a corporate credit crunch.

The slight improvement in investor outlook toward the protracted trade war which has rattled markets for the past year comes as Washington and Beijing make progress in talks to agree a truce.

But reflecting the broad spectrum of views on interest rate policy, about 55 percent of those surveyed say they think the Fed will continue to hike, while 38 percent believe the hiking cycle is done.

Reporting by Josephine Mason and Helen Reid, Editing by Ed Osmond

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