Reuters poll - UK funds boost U.S. stock holdings to five-year high

LONDON (Reuters) - British investors increased their U.S. equity holdings to the highest in at least five years in September, citing positive growth and earnings trends, with a majority doubting that a Trump impeachment would trigger a stock-market crash.

Reuters' monthly asset allocation poll of 18 UK-based asset managers was conducted between Sept. 17-26 as the S&P 500 .SPX and Dow Jones .DJI climbed to record peaks.

Not surprisingly, then, investors boosted their U.S. equity exposure by 1.3 percentage points to 35.3 percent. They also raised their global equity allocation to 52 percent, a four-month high.

“We expect U.S. equities to do well in the short to medium term, given positive growth and earnings trends and inflation that is not yet at a level that would force the Fed to kill this cycle by raising interest rates rapidly,” said Trevor Greetham, head of multi-asset at Royal London Asset Management (RLAM).

Investors remained relatively relaxed about the possibility of a political firestorm in the United Staes, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections turned up the heat on President Donald Trump.

In late August Trump warned that the stock market would crash if he were impeached. But 89 percent of poll participants who answered a question on this did not expect the market to tumble.

“While any impeachment is likely to cause some volatility, history shows making knee-jerk reactions due to short-term noise is a terrible strategy,” said Mouhammed Choukeir, chief investment officer at Kleinwort Hambros.

Mark Shields, investment director for the multi-asset team at Brooks Macdonald, also pointed out that Trump policies such as tax cuts, which have driven markets higher, were unlikely to be reversed immediately following an impeachment.

Investors remained downbeat about the outlook for the British economy, cutting UK stocks to 20.6 percent, the lowest level since April 2015.

Fears of a no-deal Brexit grew in September with the two sides still deadlocked.

There was no consensus among investors over whether the European Union and Britain would agree a post-Brexit trading deal by November. Forty percent said they would; 50 percent said they wouldn’t.

Some respondents noted that carmakers had triggered contingency plans in the event of a worst-case scenario.

“The political and economic variables are increasing rather than falling, with political manoeuvring leading the process. Hardly a constructive investment environment,” said Michael Ingram, chief market strategist at WHIreland Wealth Management.

British fund managers also trimmed some of their emerging- market exposure after another turbulent month in which equities .MSCIEF hit a 15-month low and currencies such as the Indian rupee INR= and Indonesian rupiah IDR= plumbed record or multi-year lows.

The main reductions came on the debt side, with emerging-market bonds cut to 18.8 percent from August’s 20.5 percent. Emerging-market equities were effectively unchanged at 18.3 percent.

Poll participants who answered a question on the asset class were almost evenly split over whether emerging markets were at the beginning, middle or end of their meltdown.

Larry Hatheway, group head of investment solutions at GAM, was among the more optimistic, arguing that a weaker U.S. dollar, stronger growth and position squaring would soon allow emerging markets to find a footing.

But RLAM’s Greetham argued that emerging markets were caught between a slowing Chinese economy and the rising cost of U.S. dollar finance.

“With trade war concerns added in, it is a perfect storm. With some emerging market countries raising interest rates to stabilise their currencies, we could be due a relief rally, but the longer-term trends are likely to remain poor,” he said.

Reporting by Claire Milhench, editing by Larry King