December 20, 2018 / 1:18 PM / a month ago

U.S. funds still leaning towards cash and bonds

(Reuters) - U.S. funds still tended towards cash and bonds in December, according to a Reuters poll of fund managers, who recommended increasing North American debt to the highest level since mid-2017.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. dollar banknotes are seen through a printed stock graph in this illustration taken February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The recommendations for global equity allocations in a model portfolio accounted for an average 56.1 percent, marginally down from 56.4 percent in November, according to the monthly survey of 13 U.S.-based asset managers taken Dec. 7-19.

Bond allocations were increased to 36.0 percent on average from 35.6 percent in the previous month, and cash holdings held near their highest since January 2008.

But the latest recommendations were based on only a few contributors making some tweaks, with the remaining participants keeping their portfolio largely unchanged from November as is usually the case at the end of a year.

“The global economy is past peak growth and central bank support continues to be reduced. Yet it may be the derating of financial assets, rather than traditional macroeconomic overheating or overborrowing, that leads to the next recession,” said a global chief investment officer at a large fund.

“We position cautiously but anticipate opportunities ahead as these trends support intense focus on liquid assets, which will allow us to respond to specific opportunities and higher volatility.”

Those findings come amid distress in financial markets.

The U.S. Federal Reserve plowed ahead with another interest rate rise on Wednesday and suggested two more rate hikes next year, compared with earlier guidance for three.

The S&P 500 Index .SPX fell over 1.5 percent to its lowest since September 2017 on Wednesday.

U.S. stocks are on track for their biggest December decline since 1931, the depths of the Great Depression.

Short-term investors flocked to the safety of government bonds. The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield US10YT=RR fell below its May 29 low of 2.759 percent to as low as around 2.750 percent on Wednesday, a level last seen in early April.

A rise in short-term interest rates and a fall in the longer-dated yield rekindled worries of an inversion in the yield curve, which has been a reliable indicator of a recession.

A breakdown of regional allocations showed recommendations for North American bonds rose to the highest since around the middle of 2017, at the expense of euro zone holdings, according to a smaller sub-set of fund managers in the poll.

“The more attractive yields in the U.S., combined with the recent dovish shift in Fed commentary, suggest that the U.S. bond market will continue to outperform,” said Alan Gayle, president of Via Nova Investment Management.

Additional reporting and polling by Sujith Pai; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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