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Investors Run To An Unusual Safe Haven: U.S. Stock Market

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/17/2012 12:14 pm Updated: 04/17/2012 12:14 pm

Global Mutual Funds
Trader Stephen Mara, center, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, April 17, 2012. Global mutual funds turned to U.S. stocks as safe havens in March.

Investors around the world are getting more anxious, and they're choosing to put their money in an unusual safe haven: the U.S. stock market.

A new Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey of global mutual-fund managers, released on Tuesday, finds that investors scrambled for safety last month as worries about the European debt crisis once again flared.

The percentage of money managers hoarding what they consider to be an unusually high amount of cash jumped to 20 percent from 10 percent in February, according to the BofA survey.

And global money managers pulled some money out of the global stock market last month, according to the survey -- not surprising at a time when there are worries that the global economy is slowing down.

But on balance money managers around the world poured more cash into the U.S. stock market in March. The percentage of investors "overweight" U.S. stocks -- meaning they had more money in U.S. stocks than usual -- was higher than the percentage "underweight" the U.S. market by 27 percentage points, up from 14 percentage points inFebruary

At the same time, global investors pulled some money out of the stock markets of Brazil, India and other "emerging" markets. And they continued to avoid the European, British and Japanese markets like a sneezing guy on the subway.

This behavior isn't too surprising if you think about it: Europe is in recession, with debt crises rolling around the continent. Japan is in a shaky recovery from a recession last year, and China's growth appears to be slowing sharply.

The U.S. economy, meanwhile, is still doing OK, though data on Tuesday suggested manufacturing and home construction slowed toward the end of the first quarter.

But there was another funny wrinkle in the survey: While foreign investors might see the U.S. as a safe haven, U.S. investors are starting to sour on the prospects for U.S. economic growth and corporate profits, according to the survey.

"A net 8 percent of U.S.-based investors say the country’s economy will get stronger in the coming year, down from a net 29 percent in March," BofA said. "A net 8 percent predicts corporate earnings will fall – last month, U.S. investors were evenly split on whether earnings would improve or deteriorate."

So far, global investors' faith in U.S. stocks has been both tested and rewarded: By putting more money into U.S. stocks in March, global money managers suffered through the stock market's mini-swoon in mid-April.

But they may also be enjoying the market's sudden, neck-breaking rebound, which continued on Tuesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 170 points at midday in New York, thanks in part to better-than-expected corporate earnings.

This sort of market volatility, this unpredictability, is the sort of thing a lot of money managers hate. But it's not nearly as bad yet as it was last fall, when a 170-point swing up or down in the Dow was considered a relatively calm day.

And money managers globally are still more cautious than terrified, noted Michael Hartnett, chief stock strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research. Last fall, for example, the percentage of investors hoarding cash jumped to 30 percent and stayed there for months. And during the crisis about half of all money managers were parked in cash.

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