The possibility of a change in U.S. Federal Reserve monetary policy or its “quantitative easing” stimulus program poses the greatest risk to equity markets over the next six months, according to a quarterly survey of investment managers by Northern Trust.
The survey of approximately 100 investment managers was taken June 6-21, as the financial markets were reacting to comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others regarding the future of Fed policy. A majority of respondents, 62 percent, said comments indicating the Fed would slow the pace of its bond purchases under the quantitative easing or QE program would lead to higher interest rates in the next three months. A change in Fed policy also displaced a European debt crisis as the greatest potential risk to equity markets in the next six months, according to a ranking by managers in the survey.
After two quarters of rising optimism on the U.S. economy, the survey found tempered enthusiasm on housing prices and jobs, although managers still hold positive views on the U.S. economy and stock market. For example, 76 percent of managers expect housing prices to rise in the next six months, but that figure is down from 88 percent in the first quarter survey. Meanwhile, 22 percent of respondents expect housing prices to remain stable, up from only 9 percent who held that view in the previous quarter.
On jobs, too, there was a shift in expectations from accelerating improvement to stable, slower growth. More than half (57 percent) of respondents expect stable job growth in the next six months, while those expecting accelerating job growth fell to 29 percent from 38 percent in the first quarter survey. However, the vast majority of managers, 87 percent, expect U.S. corporate profit growth to increase or remain the same in the next three month, down only slightly from the previous survey.