U.K. assets are too hot to handle right now, top investors say
Investment heavyweights have warned that international investors will continue to shun the U.K. until the dual threat of a hard Brexit and a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn can be completely discounted.
Investors have avoided the U.K. amid uncertainty over the country’s future relationship with the European Union. Net outflows since the referendum vote in June 2016 from funds which invest specifically in U.K. companies reached $29.8bn, according to data from EPFR.
Lucy Macdonald, chief investment officer for global equities at Allianz Global Investors, said in addition to uncertainty surrounding the Brexit outcome, the policy proposals of the opposition Labour Party under leader Jeremy Corbyn have also affected sentiment.
“Another reason why global investors have been nervous about the U.K. has been the threat of an extreme left-wing government. Although that looks a lower risk because of where the polls are, it is still a risk,” said Macdonald.
According to poll tracker Britain Elects, the Conservatives have a nine-point lead, with 33% of voters intending to vote Tory against 24% for Labour in a future election.
Macdonald added: “Until that particular risk is taken off the table through an election, I don’t think global investors are going to be coming back en masse.”
According to figures published in October from Calastone, the funds data company, active equity funds domiciled in the U.K. had their worst three-month period on record between July and September, with investors pulling a net £3.5bn worth of assets — more than the previous three quarters combined.
Funds that invest specifically in U.K. companies were the hardest hit during the period, with investors taking out a net £1.2bn as political uncertainty continues over Brexit. Real-estate funds sold to U.K. investors also had a record quarter for outflows, with a net £667m heading for the exit.
Political uncertainty — in particularly the risk that a Labour government could nationalize key industries in the U. K. — has also spooked investors.
Asset managers raised concerns about Labour proposals to hand workers in some U.K. companies shares worth more than £300bn — a move which fund managers warned could dilute their existing investments and lead to businesses fleeing the U.K.
However, large investors have expressed doubts that Labour could win an election outright.
According to a poll of 49 large investors, conducted at the end of September by opinion sharing forum Procensus, a Conservative majority was considered the most likely outcome of a general election, followed by a coalition between the Tories and Brexit Party.
The poll represented a shift in sentiment from July, when investors indicated the most likely outcome of a general election would be a Labour-led coalition.
Despite some investor fears about a Corbyn-led government, emerging markets veteran Mark Mobius said the party’s fiery rhetoric was unlikely to become a reality.
“Once these people get into office you find they have to taper their rhetoric quite dramatically and any extreme — right or left — have to move to the center,” said Mobius.
He added: “There is no way [Corbyn] will be able to implement radical policies because a coalition, or bureaucracy, just won’t let it happen.”
AllianzGI’s Macdonald added: “Some of Labour’s policies may be watered down, but you can’t say ahead of an election.”
Pascal Blanqué, chief investment officer at Amundi, said some potential outcomes have still not been priced into the market, including a scenario involving a Brexit deal being struck and Corbyn winning an election.
He added: “What we’ve heard from Labour so far won’t necessarily reassure financial markets.”