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Investors believe the stock market is set for losses, and cash is best safe haven, CNBC survey shows

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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, March 28, 2023.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Wall Street investors believe the stock market is headed for losses after a positive first quarter, seeing cash as the best safe haven right now, according to the new CNBC Delivering Alpha investor survey.

We polled about 400 chief investment officers, equity strategists, portfolio managers and CNBC contributors who manage money about where they stood on the markets for the second quarter and forward. The survey was conducted over the past week. 

Nearly 70% of respondents said the S&P 500 could see declines ahead. Thirty-five percent of the investors believe the biggest risk to the market this year is a misstep by the Federal Reserve, while another 32% said persistent inflation poses the most pressing threat.

The market has been particularly resilient so far even in the face of a banking crisis and continuous tightening from the Fed. The S&P 500 is on track to post a winning quarter, up more than 5%, after equities staged a big comeback with the government’s emergency rescue measures that helped stem the chaos in the banking industry.

“Economic concerns enveloping recession fears haven’t vanished as the yield curve still represents a counter to the market’s climb higher,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist at LPL Financial. “But if the market can continue to edge higher in spite of a wall of worry that seems to climb higher with each new headline, it begs the question who’s right, and which side is more prescient.”

The Fed enacted a quarter percentage point interest rate increase last week, while signaling one more rate hike coming this year. Many investors believe the central bank should reverse course immediately as more rate hikes will exacerbate banking problems and cause a severe economic slowdown. However, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell explicitly said rate cuts are not his base case.

DoubleLine Capital CEO Jeffrey Gundlach recently said the bond market is screaming that a recession is imminent, and he sees the Fed starting to lower interest rates “substantially” in the near future. Mike Wilson, Morgan Stanley’s chief investment officer, said this week that investors are still too optimistic about corporate earnings, and a severe deterioration is about to drag stocks lower.

With an overall bearish view on the market, 60% of the investors said cash is their safe haven right now. The recent banking turmoil has driven significant inflows into money market funds, which saw assets increase to a record of $5.2 trillion as of Wednesday, according to the Investment Company Institute.

“Money market yields >4% are hard to resist ahead of a slowdown, and the ‘option value’ of cash keeps rising,” Jared Woodard, Bank of America’s Investment & ETF Strategist, said in a note.

Goldman Sachs’ head of asset allocation research Christian Mueller-Glissmann also set a preference for cash over equities around the world as he said the banking stress triggered a sharp risk appetite reversal.

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