Current levels of both net free credits and margin debt indicate hedge funds are “extremely bullish” on equities, says analyst Stephen Suttmeier in the latest Hedge Fund Monitor from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Hedge fund leverage (as measured by NYSE Margin Debt) rose 28.3% year on year in March to $380 billion and is creeping toward its 2007 peak of $381 billion. And hedge funds' cash balances in margin accounts plummeted to a negative $92.2 million in March—the lowest level since 2000.
Suttmeier says their models indicate market neutral funds bought market exposure from 7% to 10% net long, the highest since June 2012. Equity long/short bought market exposure to 41% from 40% net long, above the 35-40% benchmark level. Macros continued to add to their shorts in risk assets including the S&P 500, NASDAQ 100 and commodities. In addition, they added to their shorts in 10-year Treasuries, while slightly selling US dollars and adding to their long positions in EAFE and short positions in EM.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission data shows large equities speculators bought the S&P 500, the NASDAQ 100 and the Russell 2000 while agriculture specs bought soybean and corn and halved their shorts in wheat.
Metals speculators sold gold and silver, bought platinum and palladium, and partially covered copper. Energy specs bought crude oil, partially covered heating oil, were flat natural gas and sold gasoline.
Foreign exchange speculators sold U.S. dollars while partially covering euro and yen. Interest rate spcs aggressively bought 30-year Treasuries, bought 10-year Treasuries, and sold 2-year Treasuries.