Stock pickers are still positioned for a Fed ‘soft landing,’ mutual fund holdings show

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Traders on the floor of the NYSE, Oct. 21, 2022.
Source: NYSE

Professional stock pickers are still betting that the U.S. economy could skirt a recession, according to Bank of America analysis.

Actively managed mutual funds have maintained their pro-cyclical stance with overweights in consumer discretionary and industrials, while having a sizeable underweight in consumer staples, Bank of America’s monthly analysis of fund holdings showed. Consumer discretionary and industrials are generally sensitive to economic turbulence, while staples are viewed as defensive stocks.

“Long-only mutual funds appear to be expecting a soft landing,” Savita Subramanian, BofA Securities head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy, said in a note.

The positioning showed that the cohort seemed optimistic about the economy even as the Federal Reserve is tightening monetary policy at its most aggressive pace since the 1980s. The central bank in September raised rates by three-quarters of a percentage point for a third straight time, vowing more hikes to come.

Big-name investors from Stanley Druckenmiller to Paul Tudor Jones have warned that an economic downturn is inevitable at this point as inflation turned out to be stickier than expected.

Still, mutual funds are not well positioned to hedge against stubborn inflation or a strong dollar.

Bank of America’s data showed active managers remain “deeply” underweight the bank’s basket of inflation beneficiaries, while their dollar exposure favors stocks less geared towards a strong greenback.

So far this year, 39% of large cap active funds are outperforming their benchmarks, higher than the 35% average over the past decade, Bank of America said. However, investor capital continued to flow into passive strategies from active due to lower fees, the Wall Street firm said.

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