Cyprus bailout prompts fund managers to cut equity exposure

Top fund managers reduce exposure to equities as euro worries increase

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 March, 2013, 5:25am

Renewed market jitters after the decision to rescue Cyprus have prompted some of the world's top fund houses to cut their risk profile to minimise losses in volatile global equity markets.

Paul Chan, the chief investment officer for Asia ex-Japan at Invesco, said the group planned to cut its equity weighting by three or four percentage points from 57 per cent, mainly in its exposure in the US stock markets, and shift it to bonds.

"Euro worries have returned unexpectedly due to [Cyprus]," he said. "People aren't going to increase their risk profile now, especially after we've had such a good run-up [in equity markets] since September."

Cyprus has ordered banks to remain closed until today and scrambled to complete capital control measures to prevent a run on the banks by anxious depositors after the country agreed to a painful rescue package with international lenders.

While the bailout may save Cyprus from being forced out of the euro zone, it unnerved investors, who decided to lock in profits. Raymond Chan, AllianzGI's chief investment officer for Asia-Pacific, said: "There's more profit taking in the market, and depositors in Italy and Spain may also panic and take their money out."

Apart from the Cyprus debacle, the other worries for Hong Kong-based fund managers are the mainland's weaker-than-expected economy and disappointing corporate earnings.

Agnes Deng, the head of Hong Kong China equities at Baring Asset Management, said: "So far, non-financial-sector earnings are below consensus, while financial-sector [earnings] are slightly higher than expected. The overall picture is a bit disappointing."

Chan said it was worth focusing on credit growth in China. "The regulator is trying to slow [the growth of shadow banking], but based on January's numbers, it's not slowing. They're either not watching or not doing anything about it."

But most asset managers, including Chan, plan to leave their equity exposure in Hong Kong unchanged despite euro-zone concerns, mainly because the Hang Seng Index's current valuation is already far below its historical average. The HSI is trading at about 11 times forward earnings, against a historical average of about 15 times.

According to the survey by the South China Morning Post published last Friday, most fund managers plan to increase their weightings in banks, mainland independent power producers and discretionary consumer companies in the local market.

Philip Mok, the investment director for equities at HSBC Global Asset Management, said: "We are trading on a scenario that coal prices could fall by up to 10 per cent this year, significantly boosting power producers' margins."