This commentary originally appeared at 8:19 a.m. EST on Feb. 2 on Real Money Pro -- for access to all of legendary hedge fund manager Doug Kass's strategies and commentaries, click here.
Today's dominant investor classes -- individual investors, hedge funds and pension funds -- have de-risked and are relatively uncommitted to equities.
A re-allocation into stocks (and out of bonds) represents an underappreciated and potentially massive (and latent) demand that could easily be the catalyst for a move to all-time highs in the S&P 500 in 2012.
Individual InvestorsAccording to the Investment Company Institute, in 2011 retail investors liquidated $130 billion of domestic equity mutual funds, accumulated $1.7 billion of international stock mutual funds, purchased $120 billion of bond funds and bought $8.4 billion of high-yield funds. Since the beginning of 2007 (through 2011), retail investors liquidated over $450 billion of domestic equity funds, accumulated $130 billion of international stock mutual funds and purchased $930 billion of bond funds. The near-$1.4-trillion swing out of domestic equity mutual funds and into bond mutual funds is unprecedented. Since 2001, as measured by stock holdings as a percentage of total financial assets, individual investors' share of stocks has declined from 25% to only 18%. In the same time frame, stock mutual funds have dipped from 79% of total mutual fund assets (excluding money market funds) to only 65% at year-end 2011.
Hedge Fund InvestorsAfter Wednesday's close the ISI Hedge Fund Survey, which is based on the actual exposure at 36 long/short funds, which have approximately $90 billion in assets, indicated that net hedge fund exposure moved down to 44.3% (while gross exposure dipped to 49.7%). This is close to the lowest level of long exposure in four years and equivalent to the low exposure at the generational low in March 2009.
Large Pension Fund InvestorsThere are less official data on pension funds than on retail investors and hedge funds, but it is commonly recognized that pension funds are disproportionately exposed to fixed income over equities. This important asset class remains fearful of stocks, preferring the haven of safety available in low- or virtually non-yielding bonds (which provide returns well below actuarial assumptions).
Watch What They Do, Not What They SayAs most subscribers know by now, I prefer to watch what investors do, not what they say. That is why I am dismissive of many of the sentiment surveys (AAII, Investors Intelligence, etc.) as well as put/call ratios (which are further rendered relatively meaningless, owing to the proliferation of leveraged ETFs).
Select the service that is right for you!COMPARE ALL SERVICES
Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.
- $2.5+ million portfolio
- Large-cap and dividend focus
- Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
- Weekly roundups
Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.
- Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
- Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
- A custom stock screener
- Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.
- Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
- Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
- Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.
- Real Money + Doug Kass + 15 more Wall Street Pros
- Intraday commentary & news
- Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.
- 100+ monthly options trading ideas
- Actionable options commentary & news
- Real-time trading community
- Options TV