July 30, 2009 / 11:18 AM / 9 years ago

Investors holding stocks at pre-Lehman levels

LONDON (Reuters) - Leading investors have taken their holdings of stocks back up to levels last seen just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a series of Reuters polls showed on Thursday.

Safe-haven cash holdings have also hit their lowest level since May 2007.

Surveys of 49 major investment houses in the United States, Japan, continental Europe and Britain showed an average portfolio holding 57.0 percent of its assets in equities in July.

This was up from 55.7 percent in June, but perhaps more significantly was the highest exposure to equities since a 57.4 percent holding at the end of August 2008, a fortnight before Lehman’s demise sharply accelerated a global stock retreat.

Bond holdings this month dropped to 34.7 percent from 35.8 percent in June. Within bonds, U.S. investors continued to desert Treasuries and other North American debt for other regions as they have for much of this year, weakening the dollar.

North American bonds were at 64.0 percent of the average U.S. bond allocation, down more than 10 percentage points from the 74.7 percent year high in February. The dollar is down 10 percent against a basket of major currencies .DXY over that period.

The recovery of equity positioning to pre-Lehman levels comes as world stocks have put in another month of significant gains, with MSCI’s all-country world index .MIWD00000PUS up around 7 percent for the month.

“The stock market is telling us that the worst has passed for the economy and particularly for the business cycle,” said Michael Dueker, head economist for North America at Russell Investments.

July’s rise also reflects investors bullishness about the current corporate earnings season, where there have been some major positive surprises.

Some investors, however, have expressed doubt that the rally will be sustainable without clear evidence of global economic recovery.

“The main risk is to face a disappointment on the recovery that could invalidate our strategy in which many choices are correlated to the global recovery,” said Franck Nicolas, head of global asset allocation at Natixis Asset Management.

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For a graphic of this year's allocation moves click below: For equities here For bonds: here For cash: here

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REGIONALLY

U.S. fund managers’ exposure to stocks rose for a fourth consecutive month in July, setting yet another fresh high for the year.

Eleven U.S.-based fund management firms held an average of 64.9 percent of their assets in equities, higher than 62.5 percent a month earlier.

The firms held an average of 28.9 percent of their assets in bonds, down from 31.3 percent in June. Cash dropped to 1.9 percent from 2.4 percent and was only slightly above half the long term average percentage holding.

Fund managers in continental Europe pushed cash holdings to their lowest level since November, while equity holdings fell to 45.3 percent of their portfolios from 47.1 percent in June.

The monthly survey of 16 investment houses in the region showed that bond holdings — which include government bonds as well as corporate bonds — rose to 42.7 percent in July from 39.3 percent last month.

Cash holdings fell for the fifth straight month to 4.6 percent from 6.4 percent last month.

Japanese fund managers raised their July global stock weighting from the previous month’s six-year low.

The poll of 12 fund managers showed their average stock allocation rose to 50.9 percent in July from 48.2 in June. Bond allocations fell to 46.8 percent from 49.3 percent.

Cash remained steady at 2.4 percent of portfolios.

UK fund managers raised equity weightings and cut bonds.

The poll of 10 British fund management firms showed equity weightings rose to 67.0 percent from 64.9 percent in June, while bond weightings fell to 20.3 percent from 23.3 percent.

Cash was at 6.1 percent, up from 4.6 percent.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Ablan in New York, Natsuko Waki and Laurence Fletcher in London, Akiko Takeda in Tokyo, Bangalore Polling Unit and graphics by Claire Morel; Editing by Toby Chopra

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