BofA Turns Bullish on Stocks, Commodities and Says Time to Buy

(Bloomberg) -- More than $200 billion of equity outflows. That may be what it took for the BofAML Bull & Bear Indicator to finally flag a contrarian “buy signal,” its first since Jan. 3.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch is bullish on risk assets for 2019, particularly stocks and commodities. Investors’ positioning, as well as dovish monetary policies are giving impetus to the view. The bank’s strategists highlighted that the trade war has so far pushed interest rates lower, rather than triggering a recession.

“The decline in the Bull & Bear Indicator was driven by emerging-market debt and equity outflows, a rapid rally in Treasuries against corporate bonds, and oversold MSCI equity country indexes,” BofAML strategists including Michael Hartnett wrote in a note to clients on Friday. The reading shows an “extremely bearish” positioning from investors, Hartnett said.

Investors have indeed demonstrated a dislike for equities this year, switching their exposure aggressively to bonds and gold, according to figures from fund flow and asset allocation data provider EPFR. As investors pulled $204 billion from stocks, fixed-income assets attracted $325 billion of inflows, including a record $160 billion in the past three months alone, a clear sign of global recession fears and capitulation to the “Japanification” theme, Hartnett wrote. As for gold, the precious metal’s haven status is underscored by $12 billion of 2019 inflows.

BofA Turns Bullish on Stocks, Commodities and Says Time to Buy

JPMorgan Chase & Co. also gave a bullish outlook on stocks earlier this week, saying they expect equities to move higher, starting with an up trend in September. That contrasted with UBS Global Wealth Management, which said it had gone underweight on equities for the first time since the euro-area crisis, to reduce exposure to trade wars and political uncertainty.

September will be a crunch month for monetary policy. The U.S. Federal reserve is expected to cut interest rates further, while the European Central Bank signaled it may reduce borrowing costs and restart quantitative easing, although not all policy makers agree that the outlook is weak enough to warrant the resumption of bond purchases.

Equities and commodities have rallied over the past two days, at the end of a volatile month dominated by the trade war and a sell-off of risk assets. The decision by China’s Ministry of Commerce to not immediately retaliate to escalating U.S. tariffs, and the apparent will of the two countries to continue trade talks in September, provided some relief to investors’ fears.

Over the longer term, the BofAML strategists’ outlook isn’t consistently rosy. While they show a strongly bullish view for 2019, their 2020 stance tells a different story. Recession risks are mounting, with monetary policy impotence and a potential bubble in bonds justifying their bearish view for next year: they anticipate a trough in credit spreads and a peak in equity multiples for 2020.

Since 2000, the BofAML Bull & Bear Indicator has sent 16 “buy” signals, providing a median three-month return for global stocks of 6.3%, and a hit ratio of 10 out of 16.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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