‘Recession is over,’ BofA Merrill Lynch tells investors

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Clients of Bank of America Merrill Lynch (yes, that mouthful is the brokerage’s official name now) can’t say the firm is waffling on its economic outlook.

‘The recession is over’ Merrill declared in a report Tuesday authored by Michael Hartnett, chief global equity strategist.

The brokerage’s famed horned mascot is snorting again: ‘We are bullish on global equities,’ Hartnett says in the report.


That might not sound like a surprising call for a major Wall Street player with securities to sell, but Merrill’s outlook on things in recent years had been extraordinarily dour (as it turned out, correctly so) under two of its long-time strategists: Richard Bernstein and David Rosenberg.

Bernstein, who was chief investment strategist, left in April; Rosenberg, the firm’s chief North American economist, quit in May.

Hartnett had been Merrill’s point man on emerging markets before becoming chief global equity strategist this spring.

His report on Tuesday says the economy has begun a ‘fragile recovery,’ but he sees the glass as half-full rather than half-empty: ‘This means fiscal, monetary and financial policies are likely to remain supportive of asset prices. For example, we forecast the Fed to keep the target [short-term] interest rate close to zero until 2011.’

Investors sitting with loads of cash on the sidelines should be moving that money into stocks, Hartnett advises.

‘An inflection point in the global economy should encourage investors to rebalance their portfolios to reduce cash and to look for opportunities to increase equity exposure while staying with high-quality bonds,’ he wrote.

His favorite investment themes include ‘growth’ stocks in emerging markets and ‘value’ stocks in developed markets; the largest U.S. export-oriented companies; ‘high-quality’ technology firms; and investment-grade corporate bonds.


-- Tom Petruno