By Jeremy Gaunt, European Investment Correspondent
At the same time, bond holdings rose in October with most emphasis on U.S. debt, which is being boosted by the Federal Reserve's new, quasi-quantative easing program.
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Reuters surveys of 56 leading investment houses in the United States, Japan, Europe ex UK and Britain showed the average stock holding in a balanced portfolio was 49.5 percent, down from 50.5 percent in September.
Bonds rose to 35.9 percent from 34.6 percent while cash slipped to 5.9 percent, still the second highest level of the past 12 months after September's 6.3 percent.
The polling was nearly all conducted before last week's agreements by euro zone leaders on a three-pronged plan to attack the currency bloc's debt crisis.
Given that U.S. economic data has been improving during the month and that stock markets are widely seen as offering value, the results reflect the extent of fear among leading investors that the euro zone would not act with enough vigor.
There remains residual concern even after the agreement, many of the details of which have yet to be hammered out.
"Global de-risking will continue until euro zone risks have been resolved. After that it is back to assessing global growth prospects," said David Miller, partner at Cheviot Asset Management in London.
The rise in bond allocations reflected some of the fear of investors, but it was by now means even.
Global allocations to U.S. debt jumped to 40.3 percent from 35.2 percent and holdings of Japanese bonds ticked up slightly. But euro zone debt holdings fell to 27.4 percent from 29.1 percent -- the fourth month in a row they have been cut.
The bright spot for riskier assets in the future is that cash levels remain high. This is often a sign that investors are poised to move into stocks.
"As markets have been excessively pessimistic, we think there will be an easing in risk aversion in the next few months," said one respondent in Japan.
U.S. fund managers cut their equity holdings and boosted safe-haven debt holdings as the outlook for a resolution to Europe's debt crisis was still unclear before a tentative deal was reached last week.
The poll of 13 U.S.-based asset management firms showed investors reduced allocations in equities to 60.1 percent from 64.1 percent in September.
The asset management firms raised their bond allocation to 32.0 percent in October from 27.1 percent the previous month, survey results showed. They also cut their cash holdings to 2.8 percent from 2.9 percent.
European investors outside the UK remained defensive and marginally raised stock holdings in October.
The survey of 18 Europe-based asset management firms showed a typical balanced portfolio held 43.3 percent of equities in October, up from September's 42.4 percent.
This was the third consecutive month where investors had raised their exposure to stocks, albeit in small increments.
Japanese fund managers cut their global stock weighting and raised their bond allocation for October.
The poll of 12 Japan-based institutional investors showed their average equities weighting falling to 46.8 percent from a nine-month high of 47.1 percent hit in September.
British investors continued to retreat from risk.
Thirteen investment managers upped allocations to cash in balanced portfolios to 8.8 percent compared with an average 7.8 percent a month earlier and from 5.4 percent in August.
Repeating a trend first seen in August, the increase in cash holdings came at the expense of equities, which dropped to 47.8 percent from 48.5 percent, the lowest allocation seen in more than a year.
-- Reuters also issued two similar polls from China and Italy, neither of which were included in the global calculations.
The survey of 13 Italy-based asset management firms showed equities stood at 41.6 percent this month, while bond holdings, including government and corporate debt, were at 45.8 percent and cash exposure at 9.9 percent. Participants were also mostly underweight stocks and bonds.
In the China poll, the average suggested equity weighting over the next three months rose to 83.6 percent from last month's 82.8 percent, while the recommended bond exposure rose to 8.7 percent from 6.0 percent.
(Reporting by Hebert Lash in New York, Anooja Debnath, Jeremy Gaunt and Sinead Cruise in London, Akiko Takeda in Tokyo, Shaloo Shrivastava, Ruby Cherian and Somya Gupta in Bangalore,; Samuel Shen and Jason Subler in Shanghai, and Maria Pia Quaglia in Milan; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)