UK funds shift into bonds, snap up U.S. stocks

(This October 31 story corrects name of asset management firm in paragraph 13)

By Karin Strohecker and Sujata Rao

LONDON (Reuters) – British investors increased their fixed-income holdings and cut back their stock exposure in October, although they took a shine to North American companies within their equity allocations.

Across global balanced portfolio strategies, exposure to bonds rose to 28.2 percent in October from 26.8 percent in September, reaching their highest level in a year, according to Reuters’ monthly asset allocation poll of 13 UK-based asset managers, conducted between Oct 15-30.

The gains came at the expense of equity allocations, which declined to 50.2 percent from 52.0 percent. Cash holdings slipped to 4.1 percent from 5.1 percent.

“We prefer credit over equities given where we are in this cycle; it is mature and we don’t see explosive upside from stocks,” said Thomas Becket at Psigma.

Within their equity holdings, UK fund managers raised their exposure to U.S. equities to 38.5 percent from 35.3 percent in September. That is in line with a wider trend among portfolio managers around the globe, who seem unfazed by the sell-off that ripped through equity markets in October.

“The buoyancy of the U.S. economy and the strength of company profits will eventually provide a floor,” said Andrew Milligan, head of global strategy Aberdeen Standard Investments.

Above-average cash levels already pointed to a high level of caution among investors and this – in combination with renewed share buy-backs – would help support the market, added Milligan.

Trevor Greetham, head of multi-asset at Royal London Asset Management, predicted the bull run for U.S. stocks was not over yet, despite some choppy waters ahead.

“Cross-currents in the world economy are causing volatility again this October, but we are buying the dip in the equity markets on the basis that we expect the economic expansion and bull market to continue into 2019,” Greetham said.

The increasing exposure to U.S. stocks has come at the expense of a number of emerging markets. UK fund managers reduced equity holdings across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and emerging Europe, the poll showed.

Roiled by the crisis in Turkey and Argentina and by harsh pressure on many emerging-market currencies elsewhere, developing-market stocks .MSCIEF have tumbled some 27 percent since their peak in late January.

UK fund managers were more optimistic than those elsewhere that the British pound GBP= would be stronger on March 29, 2019, when Britain is no longer a member of the European Union. Only half as many respondents expect sterling to fall below 1.31 to the dollar as expect it to strengthen beyond that.

“The fourth quarter will be key for the Brexit negotiations and the future direction for sterling,” said Christopher Peel at Tavistock Investments. “The time for posturing is over and both sides appear to be showing a newfound willingness to compromise.”

However, many declined to make the call, given the uncertainties faced by markets.

“Even if the current UK government’s proposals are agreed by the EU-27 without further amendment, the political blowback is likely to be severe, with the very real possibility of the government falling, or at the very least seeing a leadership change,” said Michael Ingram at WHIreland.

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