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As Investors Retreat from Defensive Stocks, Banks and Consumer Names Win

UK managers said macro events had a significant impact on asset allocation strategies in recent months.

U.S. banking groups and consumer goods stocks were the big winners from a recent rotation out of defensive stocks and into value names, according to a report analyzing the share ownership of more than 7,000 strategies.

The report, from research group eVestment, is further confirmation of the move toward value stocks, which began in the third quarter of 2016 and led to flows into higher-risk assets in developed economies. It was triggered by macroeconomic factors such as the U.S. election result and policy announcements from OPEC, central banks, and international leaders, which stimulated buying in U.S. regional and national banks, energy companies, and luxury goods.

Sue Noffke, UK equities manager at Schroders, explains that while financial stocks were the big winners at the end of last year — bolstered by Donald Trump’s surprise Presidential election win ­— question marks over the future of the Affordable Care Act have hurt healthcare stocks.

“We also saw a return to form of value stocks throughout the second half of 2016, after valuations between growth and value had become extended,” Noffke says. “Over the past few months, markets have continued to make progress at the headline level, boosted by expectations regarding U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies regarding deregulation, tax cuts, and greater spending.”

The trend toward financials, energy stocks, and consumer goods was evident across strategies of all sizes, according to the report. Despite the obvious trend, however, Noffke warns that investors are becoming concerned that Trump’s ability to get Congress to agree with his policies may not be a slam-dunk, which is starting to weigh on the markets.

“As a result, there has been a pause of the trends established in the second half of 2016 and a resumed interest in consumer defensive stocks in 2017,” she adds.

Among U.S. large-cap equities, financials showed the biggest increase in allocations as a percentage of portfolios in the fourth quarter, compared with the previous three-month period, with consumer goods (producer durables) also witnessing an uplift. New entrants into the top-ten holdings included Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and UnitedHealth Group.

U.S. mid-cap equities were a similar story, with technology and consumer discretionary stocks also benefitting. UK equities displayed similar characteristics — with UK bank Barclays entering the top ten stocks — but energy stocks were also notable in their presence, with Rio Tinto entering the top ten and jumping four places up the rankings.

In an analysis, William Davies, head of global equities at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, said sentiment clearly shifted in the wake of the UK referendum on EU membership, when the decision of the British public to vote for Brexit initially surprised markets.

“While this created uncertainty, which was heightened further during the run-up to the US election and the eventual victory of Donald Trump, the year ended with an apparently more positive outlook for growth,” he wrote. “In the U.S., Trump’s ‘America First’ rhetoric supported domestic companies, regulation looked set to be relaxed and corporate tax levels reduced, and December closed with a second U.S. rate rise in 12 months. In Europe, even the uncertainty around the UK’s position in the EU and the wider ramifications for the region couldn’t dampen the recovery in companies most sensitive to economic sentiment.”

Looking at geographical allocations, Brazil, Russia, the U.S., and Mexico all saw an increase in weightings over the quarter, compared with the third quarter of 2016.

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