Professional investors are growing less pessimistic about the economy, which could mean good things for stocks. In the Bank of America Fund Manager Survey for January, respondents indicated that they still see dangers for the economy, with both higher inflation and interest rates along with slow growth . But the level of fear is lessening, with 68% still anticipating a recession in the next year, down from the 77% peak in November 2022. Though that still represents substantial fear about the economy, it's the relative change that matters. "Prior peaks in recession fear were big turning points in asset prices," wrote Michael Hartnett, Bank of America's chief investment strategist. There's limited recent history to judge that trend, as the economy was on its longest expansion and bull market in history — about 11 years — before Covid-19 hit in early 2020. However, it did hold true for the past two recessions, including the financial crisis-induced downturn in 2008 and the short-lived pandemic contraction in 2020. The market is off to a solid start in 2023. The S & P 500 is up more than 3% year to date, though equities retreated Tuesday. Most Wall Street economists expect at least a shallow recession in calendar year 2023 — the byproduct of Federal Reserve efforts to control inflation . A recession, however, is not just a U.S. story, as most other developed economies have faced similar issues. In fact, a net 50% of respondents to the BofA survey say they see a slowing global economy over the next 12 months. That, too, is a potentially good sign for markets, as it represents an improvement from the peak of economic fears. The trend is especially positive considering that the survey indicated investors see monetary policy as "restrictive" and think it's time for the central bank to ease up on its tightening cycle. "This is actually the most optimistic FMS investors have been on global growth prospects in the past year," Hartnett wrote. "As with 'recession fear' ... asset prices have inflected higher whenever monetary policy was seen as restrictive in the past 20 years." Investors now expect interest rates will be lower in 12 months. The last time investors thought rates would decline was in March 2020 at the pandemic's onset. Though there are signs the market could turn, investors remain defensive. Cash is still at 5.3% of portfolios, higher than normal but the biggest monthly drop, 0.6 percentage point, since June 2020. — CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed reporting.