April 22, 2016 / 1:51 AM / 4 years ago

Australia's Future Fund shrinks for the first time in four years

SYDNEY, April 22 (Reuters) - Australia’s sovereign wealth manager, the Future Fund, on Friday posted its first quarterly decline in assets under management since June 2012, as it looked to reduce portfolio risk and boost cash holdings amid increased market volatility.

The size of the fund shrank 0.9 percent at the end of March from the end of December. In the first nine months of the financial year ending June 30, the fund returned 0.2 percent compared with a 15.1 percent return in the previous corresponding period.

The fund’s weak performance underscores the growing investment risks across assets as concerns about global growth continue to loom and interest rates remain near zero or in negative territory.

“We see prospective returns on risk at a lower level than in the immediate past years,” Future Fund chair Peter Costello said in a statement. The fund has consistently warned in the past year that returns would slow.

The fund’s exposure to Australian equities was 6.5 percent at end-March, in line with end-December readings, while the share of global equities narrowed to about 23 percent from nearly 25 percent. Cash holdings, on the other hand, rose to about 23 percent of the portfolio from 20.6 percent at the end of 2015.

“The Future Fund retains ample liquidity, which we feel is appropriate in the current environment,” Future Fund Managing Director David Neal said in the statement.

“We will continue to work closely with our external managers to identify attractive investment opportunities and construct a diverse portfolio that is, as far as possible, robust to an uncertain future.”

The A$117.4 billion ($91.10 billion) fund has returned an average 11.3 percent return over the last three years.

But the fund, which has consistently outperformed its target return in recent periods, has fallen short of its target over the past year.

The Future Fund was set up in 2006 with contributions of A$60.5 billion ($43.9 billion) to cover pension liabilities for public servants. ($1 = 1.2887 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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