Investors Most Upbeat in Five Years

Poll shows global investors feel bullish on stocks and developed economies, bearish on bonds and on developing markets.

International investors are more upbeat about the global economy today than at any time in almost five years, buoyed by the U.S.-led revival of industrial nations, according to the Bloomberg Global Poll.

On the eve of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, 59 percent of Bloomberg subscribers surveyed last week said the economic outlook is improving. That’s up from 33 percent in November and marks the most optimistic result since the poll began in July 2009.

Strength in the richest economies was cited as the main reason for confidence by almost two-thirds of the 66 percent who said they were more positive than a year ago. While the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has already risen about 24 percent in the past year, more than half of respondents identified stocks as the asset of choice for 2014 as concern about asset bubbles eased.

“Developed countries are playing by far the most important part of the recovery in confidence, in markets, and in the economy,” said Wilhelm Schroeder, 54, a poll participant and managing director of Schroeder Equities GmbH in Munich. “Without doubt, confidence is the single most important determinant for growth.”

The enthusiastic tone is set to be reinforced when more than 2,500 leaders of finance, business, and government gather starting tomorrow in the Swiss Alps. The Davos meetings of recent memory have been overshadowed by crises ranging from the recession of 2009 to subsequent fears of a euro-area break-up. Even a year ago, there were qualms about the potential for a fiscal-policy error in the U.S. or a hard landing for China’s economy.

“The mood is most likely better and positive,” said Nouriel Roubini, chairman of Roubini Global Economics LLC in New York, who used the Davos conference of 2007 to warn of impending economic woes. “That reflects the improved strength in the global economy and financial markets.”

The change in mood sees equities favored over fixed income, with 53 percent of those surveyed saying stocks will offer the best return in the coming year, the most since May. Just 3 percent picked bonds and 39 percent said they would have the worst returns. Real estate was the second most popular bet, with the backing of 16 percent.

 

Attitude Shift

The poll also underscores the shift in attitude back toward advanced economies, five years since they were roiled by the financial crisis and recession. Now it is the emerging markets, which propped up the world amid the slump, causing concern.

Seventy-two percent in the survey said the U.S. economy is improving, up from 53 percent a year ago. Forty nine percent said the same of the Eurozone, a tripling since last January and the most since the question was first asked in September 2011. Forty-eight percent said Japan is strengthening.

By contrast, just 13 percent of those surveyed said China’s economy is improving, with 36 percent saying it is deteriorating, although almost half said it’s stable. On Brazil, 44 percent said its economy is fading.

China’s slowing economy also emerged as the biggest concern among investors, with a third of those polled identifying it as the world’s major risk, up from 26 percent in November. Political gridlock in Washington over U.S. fiscal policy, the biggest worry two months ago, was viewed as the main threat by only 8 percent this time.

“There has been an alarming deceleration in the emerging world,” said Nariman Behravesh, a Davos delegate and chief economist at IHS Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. He estimates developing economies will contribute the least to global growth this year since 2010.

The rebound in developed economies was rubber-stamped today when the International Monetary Fund raised its forecast for global economic growth this year to 3.7 percent from the 3.6 percent it predicted in October.

That’s not stopped Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who will also be in Davos, from calling the recovery “feeble” and saying global growth remains below its long-term trend of about 4 percent. She’s also urged policy makers to fight the “ogre” of deflation.

Money looks likely to follow growth, according to the Bloomberg Global Poll. Forty-six percent said the U.S. will be among the most attractive investment destinations this year. Forty percent pointed to the European Union, the most since the question was first asked in October 2009.

 

Worst Opportunities

Thirty-three percent identified Brazil as likely to provide some of the worst opportunities, while 29 percent named China and 27 percent Russia.

The increased embracing of risk is fanning some concerns that asset bubbles may build, albeit less so than in November’s survey. Fourteen percent said stocks are in a bubble and 42 percent said they are approaching one, down from 20 percent and 45 percent in November.

Thirty-eight percent said Internet and social networking stocks are in a bubble, down from 49 percent. Thirty-five percent said the same of London house prices, a decline from 41 percent. More than half said Treasuries are not displaying signs of being overvalued.

Some Davos attendees are already worried markets are showing signs of exuberance unjustified by the economic recovery.

“We’re getting a little optimistic,” former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said in a Jan. 4 interview. He has warned advanced economies may face a period of “secular stagnation” that even zero interest rates can’t reverse.

The renewed expansion may nevertheless be a reason why 37 percent said the trend in globalization is accelerating. About a quarter each said it is slowing or stalling, and 5 percent said it’s in reversal.

Asked how they viewed various policy makers, 71 percent of respondents said they regard European Central Bank President Mario Draghi favorably and 60 percent said the same of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

The poll of 477 investors, analysts, and traders who are Bloomberg subscribers was conducted on Jan 16-17 by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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