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U.S. mutual fund managers brace for closer presidential election

Published 11/05/2016, 10:30 PM
© Reuters. People sit outside the NYSE during the morning commute

By David Randall

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. presidential election is looking like less of a certainty for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton than it did a month ago, prompting mutual fund managers to brace for more volatility by raising cash and getting their buying lists ready for opportunities.

"The market has been pricing in a Hillary victory, and now with the introduction of the Comey letter, there's a stronger possibility that the base case doesn't happen," said Phil Orlando, portfolio manager of the New York-based Federated Global Allocation fund.

FBI Director James Comey wrote Congress last Friday that more of Clinton's emails would be scrutinized as part of an investigation into Clinton's use of a private email system while she was secretary of state.

The benchmark S&P 500 stock index has shed nearly 2 percent since Comey's letter was made public, and notched its longest losing streak in nearly five years.

Orlando said his fund has been raising cash out of the possibility that the market could fall as much as 10 percent from the all-time high of 2,193.81 it notched Aug. 15.

And Orlando is not the only one. Lipper data released on Thursday showed investors fled U.S. based stock and bond funds in the latest week. Nearly $7.7 billion left taxable bond funds in the seven days through Nov. 2, the largest weekly withdrawals this year by a wide margin, while U.S. equity funds showed $3.4 billion in outflows.

His fund is now neutral to the market, he said, in order to guard against the possibility that either Republican nominee Donald J. Trump wins the election, or that Democrats win both the Senate and the House in addition to the presidency, both of which outcomes would push the market down at least another 5 percent, he said.

The market volatility has also caused anxiety for retail investors, according to Phil Blancato, chief executive of Ladenberg Thalmann Asset Management in New York, who has cautioned against overreacting to the market movements caused by the election.

"I’ve had multiple people call us up to say 'let’s raise cash in my account' because of the election," said Blancato.

"Having to talk them off a cliff is becoming almost comical at this point because of the idea that suddenly the world is going to fall into the ocean because Trump wins the election."

Terri Spath, chief investment officer at Sierra Investment Management in Santa Monica, California, has been selling as the market's volatility picks up, shifting more assets into emerging market debt and floating rate loans that should be more "insulated" from the results of the U.S. election, she said.

"We think it's going to be a tight race and we're willing to step out of the way if volatility picks up," she said.

One area in which she has been buying, however, is infrastructure and transportation related stocks that have dropped more than the broad market, she said.

Both candidates have pledged to spend more on rebuilding bridges, tunnels and other links, while the iShares Global Infrastructure ETF (O:IGF), one of the best proxies for global infrastructure stocks, is down 4.3 percent over the last month.

Eric Marshall, a fund manager at Dallas-based Hodges Capital, said he welcomed the sell-off because the U.S. market had been steadily rising since February except for a short fall after the so-called Brexit vote.

He is drawing down his approximately 8 percent stake in cash to buy more healthcare and consumer companies that have fallen over the last week, he said, and is preparing to buy more should either Trump wins or the Democratic party sweeps the election.

© Reuters. People sit outside the NYSE during the morning commute

"The Brexit blip was the last time when you could have made some money, and we're ready to be opportunistic again," he said.

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