July 8, 2019 / 12:11 AM / 4 months ago

Sovereign investors shun Europe for Asia, emerging markets

LONDON (Reuters) - Nearly three times as many sovereign investors plan to raise exposure to emerging markets rather than Europe this year as the continent’s attraction wanes due to slowing economic growth and rising political risk, a study by asset manager Invesco showed.

FILE PHOTO: People walk past at a screen displaying India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presenting the budget, on a facade of the Bombay Stock Exchange building in Mumbai, India, July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Europe is falling out of favour with sovereign wealth funds and central banks, with nearly one third of such investors dropping the amount of funding they set aside for Europe in 2018 and a similar number planning further decreases in 2019, the survey found.

“A large chunk of Europe has negative bond yields and growth forecasts are relatively low compared to emerging markets, so from an investment perspective its less attractive. When we talk about the risks there is quite a lot of focus on euro zone politics and Brexit,” said Alex Millar, head of EMEA institutional at Invesco.

The dovish stance of the European Central Bank and other major central banks in keeping the stimulus gates open have pushed European benchmark bonds ever deeper into negative territory, spurring a fresh hunt for yield.

European politics is also weighing on investor decision-making.

Britain’s exit from the European Union is influencing asset allocation decisions for 64% of sovereign investors, the survey found, while euro zone internal politics - deemed more uncertain with the rise of populist movements and new chiefs set to take over at the ECB and European Commission - was clouding investment decisions for 46% of sovereign investors.

As a result, only 13% of sovereigns plan on raising allocations to Europe, compared to a 40% for Asia and 36% to emerging markets.

Despite concerns about trade tensions between China and the United States, China’s perceived attractiveness as an investment destination over the next three years rose compared to the previous year, the survey found.

The annual report, which is based on interviews with 139 sovereign investors and central bank reserve managers with $20.3 trillion in assets, found bonds had overtaken equities to become the biggest asset class in portfolios, averaging 33%. This is up from 30% in 2018.

“Since we started the survey seven years ago we’ve seen a consistent trending down of fixed income allocations and a move towards moving that allocation more towards private markets. What’s interesting this year is that we’ve seen a noticeable step up in fixed income allocations,” said Millar.

“There was some volatility at the end last year so equities allocations dropped, but there was definitely a feeling that as they move later into the economic cycle they were increasing fixed income or the defensive nature of the policy.”

After a challenging year due to volatile equity markets, sovereign investors achieved returns of 4% in 2018 compared to 9% in 2017, the survey found.

Reporting By Tom Arnold; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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