By Claire Milhench
LONDON (Reuters) – Global investors dumped equities in July and raised bond allocations after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and subsequent signs of damage to economic growth prompted a dash toward fixed income.
The Reuters monthly poll of 44 fund managers and chief investment officers in the United States, Europe, Britain and Japan was conducted between July 15 and 28 and is the first to fully reflect the fallout from the Brexit vote.
After the vote, sterling crashed to 31-year lows and some $2 trillion was wiped off global stock markets, as investors stampeded into the safe haven of bonds.
Markets have recouped some of the losses, but data released since then indicates the fallout will spread through the British economy and the rest of Europe.
“After the UK referendum, we are increasingly biased toward a risk-off stance,” said Matteo Germano, global head of multi-asset investments at Pioneer Investments.
“Scarce visibility on the political front leads us to take an even more cautious approach toward equities – especially in developed markets and Europe.”
The poll showed equity holdings at 42.9 percent in investors’ global balanced portfolios, down from 45.6 percent in June – the lowest in at least five years.
At the same time, they raised the weighting of bonds to 40.9 percent from 38.1 percent in June, also the highest level in at least five years.
Boris Willems, a strategist at UBS Asset Management, said uncertainty over the full economic implications of Brexit was keeping investors jittery.
Within equity portfolios, investors cut exposure to U.S. stocks by just over two percentage points to 38.4 percent, possibly taking profit after a strong rally.
The S&P 500 <.SPX> is up over 6 percent so far this year and reached all-time highs in July.
UK equity allocations held steady at 11.5 percent and holdings of eurozone stocks edged up one percentage point from June to 19.2 percent.
Peter Lowman, chief investment officer at UK-based wealth manager Investment Quorum, said loose monetary policies would continue to stimulate equity markets, but it was likely to be “a roller-coaster ride” over coming months. “Equities are likely to remain volatile but rewarding,” he said.
Global fund managers also trimmed property allocations to 2.4 percent from 2.9 percent in June. However, the drop was bigger among British funds, which on average almost halved holdings of property from the previous month to 3.8 percent.
Real estate is expected to be one of the biggest victims of Brexit, with prime housing and commercial property prices in London already moving lower. Several property funds have suspended trading after a wave of redemption requests following the June 23 vote.
One notable side-effect of Brexit, so far at least, has been a surge in support for the EU elsewhere in the bloc.
An overwhelming majority of poll participants who expressed a view thought the UK would be the only country to leave the EU in coming years.
“The UK’s decision to leave the EU has arguably brought (EU) countries closer,” said Trevor Greetham, head of multi-asset at Royal London Asset Management, citing recent opinion polls.
Other respondents, such as Raphael Gallardo, a strategist at Natixis Asset Management, felt Brexit would show how costly it could be for a country to leave the EU. He pointed out that in Central and Eastern Europe, EU funding would be a strong barrier to overcome for obtaining a pro-exit majority.
“Peripheral countries with major anti-EU movements simply cannot afford to leave the EU,” agreed Jan Bopp, an asset allocation strategist at Bank J Safra Sarasin.
Within global bond portfolios, investors cut their euro zone bond exposure by around two percentage points to 23.9 percent, the lowest level since January 2015.
But U.S. bond allocations rose to 38.2 percent from 36.9 percent, with Bopp noting that the higher real yields on offer in U.S. fixed income had tempted investors.
The collapse in developed market bond yields in recent months – with over $10 trillion in debt now yielding less than zero – is pushing more investors to seek out better returns in emerging markets.
Holdings of emerging equities and bonds rose, with Latin American equities and Asia ex-Japan bonds showing the biggest month-on-month increases, the Reuters poll showed.
But in response to a question on whether global sovereign bond yields had troughed, poll participants who expressed a view were evenly split. Some argued central bank bond buying would continue to suppress yields.
“Global bonds continue to be in high demand from both a tactically defensive perspective, and from income seekers who may not have the risk appetite for high yielding equities,” Lowman said.
But others, such as Rob Pemberton, investment director at UK-based wealth manager HFM Columbus, thought yields seen in the immediate post-Brexit vote panic should mark the low point in the 35-year cycle.
He added, however: “Don’t expect them back up sharply any time soon!”
(Additional reporting by Maria Pia Quaglia Regondi, editing by Larry King)