April 13, 2017 / 7:16 PM / 4 months ago

Top BlackRock portfolio manager turning to safe-haven assets

NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of the portfolio managers behind BlackRock Inc's (BLK.N) largest mutual fund says his team has been buying safe-haven assets such as gold and Treasuries to protect from "known unknowns" in global politics.

"There is a little political risk creeping back into investors' awareness and that's probably appropriate because there are some things out there that can go wrong," Russ Koesterich, a manager of the $40 billion BlackRock Global Allocation Fund (MALOX.O), told Reuters on Thursday.

"We've been raising our allocation to U.S. duration and we've been raising our allocation to gold."

Despite what he said was a "good year" for markets and a low likelihood of recession, Koesterich said there is "less conviction" in the "reflation trade," the belief that markets are poised to profit from a coming global growth wave.

Koesterich and other investors saw that reflation narrative driving stocks' strong performance since Donald Trump's election last November as U.S. president.

"Against the dry tinder of firming prices, we now have a potential match: a rare combination of fiscal stimulus and tax cuts," Koesterich wrote in November. "Welcome to the new world."

The match has not yet been struck, and the unpredictability of conflict involving the Korean peninsula is dragging on markets, Koesterich said.

Reclusive North Korea could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test or more missile launches in defiance of U.N. sanctions and warnings from the United States that a policy of patience is over.

"I don't think anybody is going to predict what happens in North Korea," said Koesterich. "That's one of those known unknowns."

Gold and bonds are traditionally used to curtail risk. But the U.S. dollar is more likely to trade within a tight range, rather than "rocket" higher, Koesterich said, especially after Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week that the greenback is "getting too strong."

The Global Allocation Fund trimmed its quarter-billion dollar stake in JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) in March, according to new disclosures showing the bank was no longer one of the fund's top-10 holdings at the end of the month.

JPMorgan and other bank stocks faced selling pressure on Thursday after their earnings reports showed slower loan growth and other comments by Trump on Wednesday endorsing low interest rates. Low interest rates dampen a bank's ability to make money from lending.

The latest disclosures did not clarify how much of the JPMorgan stake has been sold and Koesterich declined to comment on individual stocks.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Jennifer Ablan

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