Investors kick off 2012 with defensive stance: Reuters polls
LONDON (Reuters) - Investors have begun 2012 in a cautious mood, with U.S. and Japanese asset managers worried about the euro zone debt crisis cutting exposure to stocks and boosting bonds, while European accounts added risky assets, Reuters polls show.
The surveys of 55 leading investment houses in the United States, continental Europe, Britain and Japan released on Tuesday showed a typical balanced portfolio held 50.5 percent of its assets in equities this month, the lowest since October.
Allocation to bonds, which include government and corporate debt, rose to 36.2 percent of the portfolio, the highest in at least a year. The increase was driven by Japanese investors who raised their average bond allocation to a record high.
Cash dropped to 6.0 percent from 6.6 percent, showing investors are willing to put their money to work.
The poll results show a divide in investor morale between Europe and elsewhere.
Asset managers outside Europe are worried about the long-term effects on the economy of the sovereign debt crisis.
"Europe is seeking to accomplish the very far-reaching and difficult task of fiscal integration and markets will not welcome piecemeal steps. So if the market is disappointed by policy, there will be a sharp fall in share prices," said Akio Yoshino, chief economist at Amundi Japan.
In Europe, EU leaders' pledge on deeper economic integration and the European Central Bank's offer of cheap long-term cash in December have encouraged investors to take on risk.
"With the euro summit from December 9 and the decisive actions undertaken by the ECB to provide substantial liquidity to European banks, the risks of an imminent euro zone implosion have faded significantly," said Manuel Wildhaber, asset allocation strategist at UBS Global Asset Management.
In equities, North America and Japan gained in popularity, while allocation to Britain and euro zone fell.
World stocks, measured by MSCI .MIWD00000PUS, are up more than 6 percent since the start of the year, after a volatile 2011 that saw losses of over 9 percent.
In their fixed income portfolios, investors increased exposure to government debt to 53.6 percent while they cut allocation to high yield bonds to 10.8 percent.
Sixteen out of 25 respondents who answered an extra question said their confidence in growth prospects for the euro zone had increased since the start of the year. The ECB's unprecedented three-year loans and a decline in peripheral bond yields were cited as the main reason for the rise in confidence.
U.S. asset managers cut equity allocation to 63.0 percent, pushing euro zone exposure to just 10.7 percent - the lowest in at least a year. With optimism on the U.S. economy rising, allocation to North American stocks jumped to 65.2 percent.
Their bonds weighting rose to 30.6 percent, driven by higher investment grade debt holdings. Cash rose to 2.3 percent from 1.8 percent.
Continental European funds increased their equity holdings to the highest level since July, while cutting bonds and cash, after the ECB's injection of almost half-a-trillion euros of three-year funds in December boosted investor sentiment.
The survey of 17 funds showed a typical balanced portfolio held 45.8 percent of its assets in equities - the highest level in six months - up from 44.0 percent in December.
Allocation to bonds fell for a fifth straight month to 38.7 percent, a level last seen in April. Cash fell to 9.0 percent from 10.5 percent last month.
Japanese fund managers raised their average bond allocation to a record high while cutting their stock weighting.
The average bond weighting in the poll of 12 Japan-based institutional investors jumped to a record high of 50.2 percent from 47.0 percent in December. Their stock weighting dropped to 43.2 percent from 45.6 percent in December.
Yield-seeking British investors began to return to riskier assets such as stocks, cutting cash, while worries about the impact of Europe's still-unresolved debt crisis encouraged them to increase their bond weighting.
In a survey of 14 investment managers, the average exposure to cash in balanced portfolios dropped sharply to 8.9 percent having reached a multi-year high of 10.4 percent in December.
Allocations to equities increased by a percentage point to 49.9 percent on average. Bond allocations also increased slightly to 25.2 percent from 24.6 percent a month earlier.
- Reuters also issued two similar polls from China and Italy, neither of which was included in the global calculations.
Italy's portfolio managers raised allocations to equities slightly as well as bonds, and cut cash.
Equity holdings edged up to 43 percent in a global balanced portfolio from 42.6 percent in December. Bonds, both government and corporate, reached 44 percent from 43.3 percent, according to a survey of 13 Italy-based asset management firms.
Chinese fund managers boosted their suggested equity weightings on expectations that China has averted a hard-landing and the government will provide further policy support for the struggling stock market.
The average recommended stock weighting over the next three months rose to 83 percent from last month's 80.6 percent, with interest in financial and machinery stocks rising, according to the poll of eight China-based fund managers.
Fund managers also raised their suggested exposure to bonds to 10.1 percent from 8.1 percent a month earlier, but slashed recommended cash allocation to 6.9 percent from 11.3 percent.
(Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Chris Vellacott and Alessandra Prenticein London, Samuel Shen and Kazunori Takada in Shanghai, Maria Pia Quaglia in Milan, and Bangalore Polling Unit; Editing by Catherine Evans)
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