By Natsuko Waki
LONDON (Reuters) - Investors grew even more pessimistic about the developing world in February, with a majority saying the biggest threat to the stability of global financial markets was turmoil in emerging markets, a survey showed on Tuesday.
A monthly fund managers survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch showed investors' cash balance jumped to 4.8 percent, the highest since July 2012, as investors remained concerned about over-stretched equity valuations.
A net 29 percent of investors are underweight emerging equities, a record low for the survey, which dates back to 2001. The net reading shows the difference between overweight and underweight positions. Some 175 people, who manage combined assets of $456 billion, were polled.
The main concern is coming from China's growth outlook. The number of investors expecting a weaker Chinese economy over the next year rose to a net 40 percent from 28 percent in January.
Growth expectations also eased at a global level. A net 56 percent forecast a stronger economy, down from 75 percent.
The possibility of China's hard landing or a collapse in commodity prices remained investors' biggest tail risk.
"Investors are moderating their global growth outlook a little bit. Investors are pretty much washing their hands of emerging market risks these days," said John Bilton, the European investment strategist at BofA-ML.
"You still have this underlying fear over China, specifically credit market conditions. We need to see more decisive action from the People's Bank of China. I would be looking for loan and money-supply data and commodity demand as a chance for EM to have a bit of catch up."
Some 77 percent of investors said emerging markets posed potential risks to financial market stability, followed by monetary risks -- that included higher interest rates and volatile currencies.
A net 3 percent of investors think equities are expensive, partly explaining a jump in cash balance.
Within emerging markets, nearly all the respondents said they were underweight South Africa. They cut their positioning in Russia to neutral.
"There is a concern about the rand," Bilton said. "What it is punished for is the weakness persisting in the commodity market. "That said, remember South Africa actually has a number of high-quality companies When we see a period of de-risking in global markets, South Africa oddly enough is one of the emerging market countries that can do a little better because of its low beta."
(Editor Larry King)